The Needle


Kazakhstan. 1988. 81 min. Color
Russian with English subtitles
Directed: Rashid Nugmanov
Written: Aleksandr Baranov, Bakhyt Kilibaev
Cinematography: Murat Nugmanov
Music: Viktor Tsoi and Kino
With Viktor Tsoi, Marina Smirnova, Petr Mamonov, Aleksandr Bashirov
Awards: 1990 Nuremberg First Prize, 1988 The Golden Duke

Rachid Nougmanov's 1988 hit, The Needle, breaks taboos by addressing a social ill hitherto not dealt with in Soviet cinema—drug addiction. Moro, the central character of the film, played by the Soviet rock-and-roll star Viktor Tsoi, returns to Alma-Ata from Moscow to collect money owed to him. While visiting his former girlfriend, Dina (played by Marina Smirnova), it quickly becomes clear that she has become addicted to morphine. Moro—a supremely cool hero—comes face to face with a variety of dark forces in his attempts to rescue Dina, and he does so with a self-assured style and methodical approach. This is a new Soviet hero: he is ruthless in pursuit of his aims, brutal to his enemies, and devoted to his friends. Moreover, Moro enters into battle differently from his Russo-Soviet predecessors: in place of military weaponry and superhuman physical feats, Moro demonstrates his warring expertise by perfectly executing kung-fu moves. This Asian twist serves to remind the viewer that the filmic influences that have infiltrated into the Central Asian republics are closer to Bruce Lee and Toshiro Mifune than Eisenstein and dialectical materialism.

The film, set in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, presents grim, dark, and hopeless landscapes, where renewal is impossible.

Just as Moro triumphantly climbs up the highest mast on an abandoned ship, symbolically suggesting "victory over the needle," Moro and Dina realize that the healing—or, baptismal—waters they sought have all dried up, thus eliminating the possibility for Dina to absolve herself of her sins and fully recover from her addiction. Nougmanov exposes the relentless realities of a young generation beleaguered by the drug culture without offering either a solution or a hopeful outlook on the possibility of overcoming such a pervasive social plague.

Rachid Nougmanov

In 1977 Rachid Nougmanov graduated from an architectural institute. In 1984 he entered the VGIK, the Moscow Film Institute. This film, The Needle, was completed as his final project while at VGIK and is also Nougmanov's first feature length film. The film received international attention and was a box office hit at home (over 30 million tickets sold). From 1989 to 1992, Nougmanov served as President of the Union of Kazakh Filmmakers. Since 1993, he has been living in Paris.

1993 The Wild East
1988 The Needle
1987 The Art of Being Quiet
1986 Ya-Ha
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