Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
SIFF ’16: The Wounded Angel
part of an austerity measure, electricity is promptly cut at 9:00 each evening.
No, its not California today. This was Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, but the
political leadership is roughly comparable. Of course, as far as four teens
growing up on the hardscrabble steppe are concerned, the Nazarbayev regime
might as well be on Mars. Yet, the country’s stifling lack of economic
development will inevitably contribute to their grief in Emir Baigazin’s The Wounded Angel (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival.
is a sort of logical fatalism to Baigazin’s thematically related stories. That which
the lads most value will be taken from them, whereas those that have nothing
will lose their last shreds of humanity, all before graduating from high
school. Zharas is shamed by his lay-about ex-convict father, but he will make
his own poor decisions as the family’s only bread winner. Chick has an angelic
voice that could carry him out of the provincial backwater, until an untimely
cold (perhaps with an assist from puberty) brings him crashing down to earth. The
shockingly young looking Toad is already borderline sociopathic, but an
encounter with a trio of shunned glue-sniffers will push the scrap metal
salvager beyond redemption.
most tragically, Aslan could very well have earned admittance to a pre-med
program. Unfortunately, when his girlfriend gets pregnant he figures he can fix
the problem himself, with predictably disastrous results. Indeed, environment
is truly destiny for Baigazin, who will not allow talent or virtue to rescue
his ill-fated boys.
has an eye for imagery, especially the otherworldly Mad Max-ish landscape Toad navigates
in search of scrap, but he gives viewers precious little relief. Time and
again, we watch youthful innocence get crushed by their bleak circumstances. It
is a powerful indictment of a callous regime, but it is a grueling viewing
experience that gets repetitive over time.
there are a number of effective bits, such as the dramatic contrast between
Chick’s ecstatic performances of “Ave Maria” and the near silence of the rest
of the picture. The glue-sniffers’ inadvertent recreation of Hugo Simberg’s
titular touchstone fresco is also rather eerie. Still, after a while, we just
so get where Baigazin is going.
Without question, the strongest segment is Toad’s
misadventure. Despite our previous conditioning, it still manages to shock.
Regrettably, the other three story arcs feel more like punishment. Admirers of
Baigazin’s Harmony Lessons may want
to sign up for another ride, but most of the rest of festival circuit patrons
will find it a rough go. We can appreciate its aesthetic purity, but it is hard
to recommend The Wounded Angel when
it screens this Wednesday (5/25), May 31st, and June 8th,
during this year’s SIFF.
Labels: Kazakhstani Cinema, SIFF '16