It’s so rare that a movie captures the simultaneous struggle and beauty of the human condition so perfectly. Universally profound, visually stunning and moving to the core, The Gentle Indifference of the World is a an absolute masterpiece.
Every element is chosen specifically and meticulously and it brings a kind of precision to Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s filmmaking that is utterly incredible to behold. Paintings are used to symbolically denote the emotional landscape of particular moments but truly each shot in and of itself is like a painting. The film is composed of predominantly steady shots with ultra slow push-ins to highlight certain characters or to intensify the focus on a moment. Invoking literature, painting, music, theatrical drama and photography, this movie is a composite of the different artforms. It seamlessly utilises the most appropriate discipline to best illustrate the emotional life of every moment in order to form this one cohesive work of art.
Colour plays a significant role in Yerzhanov’s storytelling. Perhaps the most notable example is the red dress that the lead female protagonist, Saltanat (Dinara Baktybayeva), dons for the majority of the film. She’s pictured in this gorgeous garment, of a colour that not only visually makes her pop but which also symbolises a desirability for both the tragic hero Kuandyk (Kuandyk Dussenbaev) and the lecherous villains of the story. Kuandyk has always been sweetly fond of Saltanat. He follows her to the city when she’s sent to enquire with her uncle about a proposal he has to pay off her late father’s debts. She’s faced with the unbearable choice of marrying a man who repulses her and at first refuses. But when it becomes clear that she will never escape the looming debt and a pivotal choice is made, she suddenly appears dressed in black. The colour shift in her costuming suggests that she’s been robbed of her vibrancy, that on the inside she’s already dead. It’s one of many subtle decisions that speaks volumes.
Realising they’ve come to an inevitable and inescapable end, Kuandyk apologises: “It was a bad plan.” Saltanat smiles and affirms, “But it was a good day”. There are only two moments in the film that have orchestration: when she smiles after spending an afternoon with Kuandyk and when she finally reaches out to hold his hand at the end. This is a man who has nothing else in life save for this woman and his devotion to her. In the beginning he can’t bring himself to touch her so in the end, when she reaches for him, it’s as if to say that everything he went through was worth it for this. Like in the Camus novel from which The Gentle Indifference of the World takes its name, these characters accept their fate, walking into it with one final moment of happiness.
Yerzhanov is surely one of the most incredible talents of our era. This The Gentle Indifference of the World is stunning in every sense.