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Aidai the baksy, or witch doctor, lives in the mountains and helps people. She uses mysterious actions to cure the sick and to give infertile couples children. As capitalist forces begin to encroach on tradition, the first casualty is any culture's most fundamental inheritance - land. The healer has to leave her land because the mob thinks the location is suitable for a filling station. A harsh battle between supernatural good and earthly evil ensues. Native Dancer evokes the mysticism of fantasy and the thrills of a gangster film. Featuring Neisipkul Omarbekova, a real-life Kazakh witch doctor, in the title role. Written by
Warsaw Film Festival
Despite the superb beginning, the final product turned out to be a mediocre crime drama with elements of an ethnic psychological film.
The first thirty minutes of footage make you believe that the post-Soviet Kazakhstan cinema has finally produced a masterpiece. It seemingly got it all: A charismatic, out-of this world character, a shaman woman, for some reason referred to as a "native dancer" in the English version title; wonderful insights into the dark and unknown side of Kazakhs' lives; the charm and wisdom of a good ethnic movie reminiscent of both "Atanarjuat" and the "Ballad of Narayama"; and most of all, uncompromising artistic honesty that doesn't care about dollar aspects of post-production. Hallelujah! Then everything went wrong. All of a sudden the film evolved - or should I say, degraded - into a banal, standard and unappealing crime drama, a rather primitive tribute to the theme of the "roaring 90s" with their proverbial black-leather-jacket gangsters, kidnappings, shootings etc. A totally unjustified shift from beautiful to ugly. Years ago, the director, Guka Omarova, had written a script for "Sisters" (Syostry), the only movie directed by the untimely departed Segrei Bodrov, Jr. While Bodrov was clearly a fantastic, cult actor, he failed as a director. Unfortunately Bodrov-director's legacy won Omarova's heart. There's no connection between the "native dancer" beginning of the film and its "native criminals" part. The movie's criminal line is unpersuasive, full of bugs, oversights, and contradictions that are not even worth being mentioned here. At the very end Omarova recalled that the shaman woman was supposed to be the main character and brought her back to the screen, but this return was way too artificial.
I watched a TV discussion of the film, hosted by Alexander Gordon in his "Zakrytyi pokaz" Show. There Omarova, a nice looking woman with very likable personality (sorry, it really hurts to utter all this criticism) claimed that the movie was good for two reasons: (i) it accurately depicted life and personality of a real person, the shaman; and (2) it was exclusively intended for Kazakhstan audience and as such was cheered by local movie-goers. Hardly persuasive arguments! "Native Dancer" is not a documentary, so accuracy of depiction is no virtue here. As to the target audience, I'm glad the film enjoyed a success, but with all due respect, Kazakhstan is not a fashion maker in the world of cinema. If the audience is confined to one country, so be it, but don't bother with international distribution, which producers pursued so vigorously.
Anyway the beginning of the movie was so powerful that it justified the overall grade of 5. Despite the shortcomings of the rest of the film, it proved that Omarova is a talented artist. Hopefully one day she'll say goodbye to her passion for black-leather-jacket guys and create a masterpiece.
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