Kazakhstan and France, 1998. 80 min. Color.
In Kazakh and Russian with English subtitles.
Directed: Darezhan Omirbaev.
Written: Limara Zheksembaeva and Darezhan Omirbaev.
Camera: Boris Troshev.
Art direction: Alim Sabitov.
Sound: Andrei Vlasnev.
Edit: Rima Beliakova and Claude Resnik.
With: Talgat Asetov, Roksana Abuova, Askar Rakhimzhanov, Bolat Syzdykov.
Awards: 1998 Jury Prize (Cannes).

Marat, a quiet family man who works as the personal driver for an elderly and famous director of a Mathematics Institute, borrows his employer's car to drive his wife and newborn son home from the maternity ward. Momentarily distracted, Marat rear-ends a "new Kazakh's" Mercedes and must somehow find sufficient money to repair both cars. The "new Kazakh" is not prepared to wait: time is money and money rules all. He has his hirelings badly beat Marat while Marat's wife and son are in the next room.

Marat's need for hard cash in the new Kazakhstan becomes the film's central metaphor. Unlike Kazakhstan, Marat has not been transformed. The country had shifted rapidly from socialist to capitalist economies, and this shift has had an impact on every aspect of everyday life―especially on intellectuals and workers. Marat, however, has remained anchored in the world of the Soviet-Kazakh past: in the values of merit, tradition, family, and friendship. Marat turns for help to his former army pal, an ethnic Russian who works as a bartender. His friend connects Marat with another "new Kazakh," who lends Marat the money at one per cent interest per day.

Just when he believes that he has freed himself from his troubles, Marat's world is shattered. His employer commits suicide; the Mathematics Institute is closed for bankruptcy. After all, at the beginning of the film, this leading figure of Kazakh scholarship had sadly declared in a radio interview that mathematics and knowledge were irrelevant in a land ruled by profits. Just when he needs money most, Marat is deprived of even his monthly income.

Faced with capitalism's unrelenting pressures, Marat descends further into financial powerlessness; he becomes a contemporary Job-like figure. He borrows money to buy a car abroad, hoping to resell it at home to cover all of his debts; a gang of motorcycle thugs steals the car from him. His child suddenly gets ill and requires expensive medical care. Marat's Russian pal offers him a miraculous escape from his money troubles: kill a journalist who is interfering with the loan shark's business interests. This is Marat's final ordeal and temptation. Once he succumbs, Marat and his world are already dead.

Darezhan Omirbaev's film is deliberately slow paced from beginning to end. The forces drawing Marat to his inevitable set of choices are reasonable and irresistible. The progression from necessary to horrific draws the viewer into transgressing with Marat. Where and when was the line crossed?

Omirbaev makes maximum use of the film noir's possibilities for emphasizing the cosmic insignificance of human lives and the cosmic laughter that accompanies human tragedy. Evil in the film is less a moral category than an economic one. The former is constructed by humans; the latter constructs humans.

Darezhan Omirbaev

director photo

Darezhan Omirbaev was born in 1958. In 1980 he graduated from the Department of Applied Mathematics at Kazakh State University. In 1984 he was accepted in Sergei Solov'ev's master class at the State Film Institute (VGIK), but left shortly afterwards. In 1987 he graduated from the film history and theory section of VGIK, where he focused on structuralist film analysis. From 1987-1989 he was editor of the journal New Film.

1988 Shil'de (short)
1991 Kairat
1993 Profession: Controller (documentary)
1995 Cardiogram
1998 Killer
2001 The Road

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