Ambitious but halfway failed attempt to let us think about richness and poverty, and about crime and punishment
The first ¾ of the film shows students attending lectures with a teacher who advocates the principal of "survival of the fittest" in the economic world, hence defending a segregation of rich and poor people, this being the only way to eventually provide for the goods that all of us need. These insights are apparently very new to the post-Sovjet students attending the lecture. They struggle on a philosophic level with the consequences, however without much bearing to their daily lives, where richness is something on a far distance.
When our main character sees that one of his friends is beaten up by the body guards of a rich banker, after having spilled coffee over the daughter, he wants to bring aforementioned "survival" principle into practice, rather than talking and writing about it. He decides to rob a local supermarket. His misdeed is known to us, but he succeeds in remaining undiscovered by killing not only the shopkeeper but also the only witness.
The anti-communistic philosophy is only halfway put through, however. In spite of having barely enough money to support his own life, the robbery is not for his own benefit but he gives it away to help a poor poet and his family. Some time later on the poet is found dead under the proverbial bridge. He attends the death rites and maintains further contacts with the poet's family.
In the last ¼ of the film we see a different teacher, who is very outspoken about "social" behavior in the economic sense. He sees it as the main guideline to separate humans from animal life. Our main character shows that he sees a definite dilemma here. Firstly, he tries to discuss this with a fellow student, but cannot get to the point and leaves before he gets the chance to talk about his crime. Secondly, he confesses the robbery and the related double murder to one of the family members of the dead poet.
All this happens without obvious consequences. His life continues without any noticeable change. In my opinion, several opportunities are wasted here to augment the story. Particularly this is the part where the film fails to exploit the potential that the story certainly has. For instance, his own family appears suddenly. They observe his depressed demeanor but think nothing of it, they eat and drink while he stays in bed all the time, and they leave without even asking about his moody behavior.
Still not discovered by the police as the robber who shot the local shopkeeper and a customer who witnessed his crime, he wrestles with the dilemma's at hand but finds no redemption in the lack of punishment he experiences. His life drags on and on, this is something that definitely shows in this film. I experienced several dull and hollow moments, not compensated by convincing casting and acting, and I sincerely missed some interesting side roles. Pity, since it wastes a good theme for a movie that could let us start pondering over such life&death questions.
Occasionally we drive through a city that looks very modern from the outside, thereby possibly ignoring that Kazachstan was a communist country in the past, about which we always learned that building gray apartment blocks for the working class had the highest priority. No doubt, such gray and depressing areas still exist, but are conveniently not shown in a film that is to be exported and to be shown in much more developed countries. From the exteriors of the buildings in the parts of the city we see in this film, we could easily think these to be located in any modern Western country.
Near the end of the film we see our main character entering a police station, with the obvious intent to report his crime and accept his punishment. A few moments later we see him leave again, but we are left in the dark about this sudden change of heart. Finally, he gets the punishment he thinks he deserves (for spoilers sake, I omit details). But again, I missed everything we want to know about his feelings and considerations, and the reasons for his actions we observe from a safe distance.
I wrongly scored a 4 (out of 5) for the audience award when leaving the theater, but in retrospect I think it would have deserved only a 3 (not good, not bad). The story line supported a lot of good ingredients, illustrating the basic themes and related dilemma's. But the casting/acting and the spurious dull moments wasted some good opportunities to let us start thinking about our policies in life. And the absence of logic in the movements of our main character does not help either. Maybe I can wrap up with some defense for the slowness that manifested itself at times, since it can be caused by a different (passive) pace these people live in, in other words can be intended to showcase their way of life (possibly an inheritance from their Sovjet past??).
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