Women eat in separate rooms, they are being locked in basements and beaten up in so called purification ceremonies that are supposed to chase the demons away.
If he continues making movies in this tempo, Adilkhan Yerzhanov will soon become a candidate for AMP “Projects”, and chances are that he’ll even challenge Takashi Miike at one point by multiplying the number of his annual film productions.
Two of Yerzhanov’s films (both from this year) are being screened here in Tallinn at Black Nights Film Festival. “Yellow Cat” is running in the Current Waves program, and “Ulbolsyn” is screened in the main competition where it world-premiered.
There is an interesting shift in Yerzhanov’s writing in the latter. After many films about men and masculinity of his village Karatas and the surrounding area, the titular character is a woman. On top of it – Ulbolsyn (Assel Sadvakassova) is a “townie” who comes to the village to “steer trouble”. In Karatas, there is apparently no kind worse than a townie except maybe a woman who appeared on TV naked, which Ulbolsyn also happened to have done – in a shampoo commercial that “everyone saw”. This little detail is rubbed under her nose the moment she tries to get the necessary bureaucracy sorted for what she’s up to.
Determined to send her 16-year-old sister Azhar (Dinara Sagi) to study abroad, Ulbolsyn has to go through an unimaginable labyrinth of obstacles. First comes the bureaucracy nightmare which already seems awful enough, to be immediately replaced by another one of much bigger proportions. Not being aware that her sister was promised as a second wife to a popular, wealthy man Urgen (Yerbolat Alkozha) that villagers call a doctor but who’s actually performing some kind of bizarre, disgusting healing sessions, Ulboysin believes that Azhar was kidnapped by criminals or rapists, and potentially both.
She isn’t that far from the truth regarding kidnapping, but the case is rather complicated. Left behind in the small conservative community that has two sets of laws – one for men and one for women, Azhar’s mind is already corrupted by the local belief that women are inferior to men, and that “all women of the world are prostitutes” with the only difference being that some take money only from one man, while others take it from several. The idea that a woman can be independent by earning her own money doesn’t even cross her mind.
The world Ulbolsyn briefly re-visits is stuck up in the past. Women eat in separate rooms, they are being locked in basements and beaten up in so called purification ceremonies that are supposed to chase the demons away. In other words, some kind of exorcism of free will and behavior that challenges the patriarchy. However, the main hero is full of surprises. When she’s denied help by the police, she calls for her own army of armed professionals, and finally for a different kind of assistance.
The cast of Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s film is traditionally mixed, with many amateur actors we recognize from his previous films.