23 October 2020

The Heavy Anglo Ortho ‘Films of K-stan’ Review Series

Okay, 2020 has really been sucky enough a year as it is. But, the plague persists, and today we have also to deal with the release on Jeff Bezos’s platform of a sequel to an American nonmedy that should not have been made in the first place, and will not be named here out of general concern for good taste. In place of any consideration of either this downward-punching buffoon or his filmography, I thought it would be a good time to put together a list of the actual Kazakhstani films I have seen and reviewed on this blog. I intend to be adding to this list for the foreseeable future, so stay tuned and do not be surprised if this list grows.

The following list started out as a Kazakhstani film series, kicked off in part by my having watched the Veit Helmer comedy Baikonur and reminded of how much I liked the big ham that was Sergei Bodrov, Sr’s Nomad. Subsequently I decided to invest the time and the energy into that interest which dates back to the beginning of this blog, and explore the Kazakh film world. I found some things I did not expect there: like the linkages between Kazakh historical films and the epic poetry of Central Asia. But it soon morphed in two different, though related, directions. Films began to be added to it, like Shaman, that were focussed on the traditional cultures of Northern and Central Asia. And other films began to be added to it, like Brat, that were retrospective evaluations of the Soviet legacy and explorations of the post-Soviet condition. Obviously, these three thematic considerations overlap considerably.

Kazakhstani film is a world all its own, as I have found: as broad and vast as the country which its people inhabit. There are commercial blockbusters and pretentious art films. There are films which look to the past, films which look to the future, and even the odd film like Baikonur which manages to do both at the same time. There are films which celebrate Kazakh martial might and vigour, and there are films which lament Kazakhstan’s corrupt politics. There are directors in Kazakhstan who are incurable romantics who explore both sisterly and romantic love with a touchingly sensitive eye (Gulshat Omarova), and those who are bitter sceptics whose understanding of politics elevates a keen sense of tragœdy (Ardak Ámirqulov). From farcical comedies to psychological thrillers to gangster films to high fantasy to sweeping epic historical dramas, Kazakhstani film really does have something for everyone. Gentle reader, please do yourself a favour: go and watch one of these real Kazakhstani films, rather than that dreck which just got dumped on Amazon Prime.

Here is the full list of films I have done in this series, in chronological order by year of release.


Films of Kazakhstan:
Amangeldy (1938)†
Ivan Groznyi [Ivan the Terrible] (1944)
Pervyi eshelon [The First Echelon] (1956)
Tuǵan jer [Land of the Fathers] (1966)
Qyz-Jibek (1970)
Oni srazhalis’ za rodinu [They Fought for their Country] (1975)†
Igla [The Needle] (1988)
Mest’ [Revenge] (1989)
Otyrardyń kúıreýi [The Fall of Otrar] (1991)
Kaırat (1992)
Kardiogramma [Cardiogram] (1995)
Kavkazskii plennik [Prisoner of the Caucasus] (1996)
Killer (1998)
Sëstry [Sisters] (2001)
Shıza [The Recruiter] (2004)
Nochnoi dozor [Night Watch] (2004)
Kóshpendiler [Nomad] (2005)
Ulzhan (2007)
Réketır [Racketeer] (2007)
Mongol (2007)
Tulpan (2008)
Qosh bol, Gúlsary! [Farewell, Gulsary!] (2008)
Baksy [Native Dancer] (2008)
Kelin (2009)
Baikonur (2011)
Jaýjúrek myń bala [Warriors of the Steppe] (2011)
Shal [The Old Man] (2012)
Stýdent [The Student] (2012)
Ya ne vernus’ [I Won’t Go Back] (2014)
Begletsy [Runaways] (2014)
Anaǵa aparar jol [The Road to Mother] (2016)
28 Panfilovtsev [Panfilov’s 28 Men] (2016)

Films of North and Central Asia:
Beloe solntse pustyni [White Sun of the Desert] (1970)
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Shaman (1996)
Skif [The Last Warrior] (2018)

Films about the post-Soviet condition:
Brat [Brother] (1997)
Brat 2 [Brother 2] (2000)
Bumer (2003)
Absurdistan (2008)
Ovsyanki [Silent Souls] (2010)

† Not a Kazakhstani film proper, but a Soviet film which had a significant impact on the popular consciousness in Kazakhstan, and the style and themes of Kazakh film culture.

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