Still from Sharofat Arabova’s Tasfiya, Source: Berlinale
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO FARSI CINEMA: TAJIKISTAN IN FOCUS
by Marisa Sittheeamorn, Kaveh Daneshmand
The cinema of Tajikistan is perhaps the most misunderstood in this series. Compared to the critical and growing acclaim of Iranian and Afghan titles, Tajik cinema remains alien to many film lovers and festival goers around the world. This post will highlight the films and filmmakers who are building Tajikistan’s identity, and shaping the future of its constantly evolving cinema.
The first films produced in Tajikistan arose during the early thirties. Some of the country’s most influential titles came from directors Bension Kimyagarov, Vladamir Motyl, Mukadas Makhmudov, and Takhir Sabirov. As the quality and volume of work gained momentum, Tajikistan entered into a civil war plagued by secularism and propaganda. Film production completed halted, slowly reappearing only after the end of the war.
In a prior blog post on The Contemporary State of Tajik Cinema we point out how social and economic conditions are intertwined with the access, opportunity, and output of local film industries. In the 22 years since the end of the civil war in 1997, creatives in Tajikistan have faced economic stagnation, rising authoritarianism, cultural conservatism, and isolation from global conversations. This has forced creatives to make a choice: to work domestically with next-to-nothing budgets, no creative guidance, and little infrastructure, or to leave, learn, and navigate the booming yet competitive industries abroad.
While films produced domestically tend to address local themes and seldom spread beyond borders, there are a group of creatives who are tapping into their artistic talent to share their long-hidden realities with the world. Due to the multilingual landscape of Tajikistan, some of the films highlighted on this list were written and shot in Russian.
Still from Luna Papa by Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov, Source: Rotten Tomatoes
IDENTIFICATION OF DESIRE, TALIB KHAMIDOV (1992)
This film, which premiered at Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, is set during Tajikistan’s civil war, which took place from 1993 to 1997. Although the film is set during the war, there are no visuals of military action. Instead, Khamidov features shots of men in uniform with guns and occasional sounds of an automatic rifle, to remind viewers that, “the spirit of war longers over the country.” Audiences watch as three friends debate the reasons behind the tragedy and violence that surrounds them. The film examines the existence of our world, and the relationships humans have with each other, the environment, and god.
LUNA PAPA, BAKHTYAR KHUDOJNAZAROV (1999)
One of the first films out of Tajikistan following the civil war, Luna Papa tells the story of a teenager who finds herself pregnant. Communicated from the perspective of the unborn fetus, Mamlakat, the film follows the life of a teenage girl living with her father and brother in a small village.The unborn girl dreams of becoming an actress and is seduced and impregnated by a member of an acting troupe posing as Tom Cruise. On a quest to restore honor to her family, Mamlakat and her family travel across Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan to find the fetus’ father. The film was screened at the Venice International Film Festival in 1999, won the Golden Rose at Kinotavr, and was awarded Best Film and Best Director by the Russian Guild of Film Critics in 2000. Director, Khudojnazarov is also known for his film Kosh Ba Kosh, which won the Silver Lion at Venice in 1993. Kosh Ba Kosh was filmed prior to the civil war.
Angel on the Right, Jamshed Usmonov, Source: Mubi
ANGEL ON THE RIGHT, JAMSHED USMONOV (2002)
Screened at Cannes in 2002, Angel on the Right shares the journey of Hamro, a broke thug living in Moscow as he returns to Tajikistan to care for his dying mother Halima. Returning to his hometown, Hamro is forced to face prior enemies and repay outstanding debts, Meanwhile, Halima’s dying wish is for her home to be fitted with a double door which will allow for her coffin to be carried away with ease and dignity once she passes. The film is derived from an Islamic legend about the invisible angels on each of our shoulders. Other notable titles from Jamshed Usmonov include The Flight of the Bee (1998), and To Get to Heaven, First You Have to Die (2006).
OVORA, GULANDOM MUHABBATOVA AND DALER RAHMATOV (2005)
Ovora is an award-winning film about a five year old boy, living in a small village with his grandparents. His father has left for Russia in search of seasonal work in an attempt to support the family. The mother and son director duo, explore issues of labor migration and economic stagnation in the current landscape of our world. The film was presented at the 28th International Film Festival in Moscow, and won several other prestigious awards within Asia.
Still from True Noon by Nosir Saidov, Source: International Film Festival of Rotterdam
TRUE NOON, NOSIR SAIDOV (2009)
Saidov’s debut film, made with support from Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund, is based on the historical conflict between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Saidov paints a “modest portrait of a once functional town falling into chaos” when a fence is constructed, creating an international border in the middle of it. Centering around a relationship between Nilufar and her bridegroom, the border creates a literal distance between them, as well as greater social consequences for the rest of the village. While the story is absurd, its filled with tragic facts and the reality of ethnic conflict that remains a problem for many people around the world today. Saidov also directed The Teacher (2014) and Mirror Without Reflection (2014).
THE TELEGRAM, ISKANDAR USMONOV (2012)
Ultimately a portrayal of human loneliness, The Telegram shares the journey of an old woman and her neighbor living in a remote town in Tajikistan. The woman is adamant about being buried in the old cemetery once she passes, and her neighbor, who is widowed, awaits the return of her son – who left for Dushanabe to pursue his acting dream.
“The love oath-taking by Shams and Mehkri” in Tasfiya by Sharofat Arabova, Source: Tasfiya Facebook
Tasfiya, Sharofat Arabova (2014)
In Tasfiya, director Arabova shares the story of two travelling lovers called Shams and Mekhri, in their remote mountainous village in Tajikistan over 50 years ago. Pulled by a transient eclipse, Mehri breaks an oath of marital faithfulness that transforms Sham’s existence into a farcial puppet show, and leads to the murder of his spouse. As poetic as it is visually stunning Tasfiya takes viewers on an illusionary journey with Shams, as he attempts to redeem the burden of his committed sin. Screening at Berlinale in 2015, and winning multiple awards at other festivals across Asia, Sharofat Arabova sets the standard for other young burgeoning talent in Tajikistan.