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Aslan is a 13-year-old loner who lives with his grandmother on a farm somewhere on the steppes of Kazakhstan. When he goes to school, he becomes the victim of bullying by the local thug Bolat. Shy and taciturn Aslan, supported by the relentless new student Mirsayin, starts to seek cruel revenge on the bully.Written by
Deeply disturbing and morally complex tale of bullying, intimidation and fear among teenage school boys in rural Kazakhstan. Beautifully shot and very well acted by a non-professional cast.
Filmmaker Baigazin makes the film more challenging in a good way by making our 'hero' – a very hard to read teen named Aslan – a boy clearly on the edge of losing it, disconnected from other people and given to torturing bugs. So while we root for him to stand up to the bullies making his life miserable, we are also very aware that he could lash out and explode as easily as he could simply fight back, making him more anti-hero than hero, and adding a sense of tension and dread that goes far beyond the many films we've all seen on similar subjects.
The opening scene captures this beautifully (and chillingly). We see Aslan playing in the snow with a family sheep, chasing it while laughing. It's a happy, bucolic image. Then suddenly he has the sheep on the ground and is cutting it's throat and butchering it, his face betraying no emotion of any kind. It's one of the more powerful first few minutes of a film I've seen in quite a while, and speaks to the intense tensions explored in the movie.
There are missteps. For example, for me the film pushes the gross out factor more than it needs to – from the butchering of that sheep that goes on at some length in intense detail, to the many scenes of characters throwing up (at least some of which is clearly real), etc it sometimes feels like the film is working much harder than it needs to shock, in a way that took me out of the story (there's plenty that's shocking enough in simply the events of the story). And there are some logic and other questions not always well answered.
But overall this is a strong tale of the very dark side of adolescence and how the adult world deals with it told with style and a helping of dark humor. Call it Kazakhstan's answer to "If .".
Frustratingly, as of this writing, despite excellent reviews and many awards world-wide (not to mention a universal basic subject) , this is not available in the US on disc, streaming or download.
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