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Set in the Tadjik village of Asht, this film draws on the Muslim notion that we are born with an angel on each shoulder, and that the angel on the right records the good that we do throughout our lives, and the angel on the left the bad. A man who has served ten years in a Moscow prison is summoned home upon release, to help settle the affairs of his dying mother, but it is soon borne into him that he must settle his own outstanding affairs with the villagers. The nine year old son he never knew about is entrusted by the dying mother with the family heirloom jewellery, tasked with only passing it on to his father if he becomes a good man. Written by
A naturalistic film about a smalltime criminal who is duped into returning from Moscow to his Tajik village on the pretext that his wise, leather-skinned mother is dying. The corrupt locals want to collect his ten year-old debts by selling the dilapidated family home.
A vinnyjonesalike Tajik hardman - there is much lens-lingering on his fighter's cheekbones and thousand yard stare - our ex-con enters a period of langour, comatosing on vodka, kick-starting the village's movie projector (to edify the local drunks with Bollywood gorefests) and suffering occasional mild beatings. In-between, there is his offscreen attempted rape of a distant cousin and nurse (who, extremely disturbingly, falls in love with him), an ill-developed attempt to build paternal feelings for a cutesy illegitimate son, and the appearance of downmarket mafiosi 'from the city'. Further explanation would require plot-spoiling, but needless to say misanthropy rules and any audience hopes for redemption - or at least, some emotional depth - are ill-rewarded.
The film has extremely subdued pacing, stunted dialogue and uniformly cruel characters. Yet the passable cinematography and acting might engage minor anthropological interest. We witness a patriarchal society where women are kept behind curtain walls, hard-currency corruption is rife and a kingpin mayor calls the shots. Universals include the unforgiving nature of poverty-stricken communities and the gradual acceptance of death by the criminal's mother.
Best avoided. The film covers similar territory to the Iranian film 'The Wind Will Carry Us', but without depth of characterisation, long-distance landscape shots or high production values.
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