Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Submitted by Kazakhstan: Amanat
question, one of the most dangerous professions in the former Soviet Captive
Nations was that of historian. Remembering was risky in general and downright
perilous in the case of people and events the Party wanted forgotten. Two
generations of Kazakh historians will seek the truth about Kenesary Khan, the
last Kazakh Khan, descended from Genghis himself, but both will run into
bureaucratic stonewalling and secret police intimidation in Satybaldy
Narymbetov’s Amanat (trailer here), which has been
official submitted by Kazakhstan as their foreign language Academy Award contender.
nine-film shortlist is due imminently from the Academy’s foreign language
division, which is unfortunately highly likely to overlook Amanat (a Kazakh word for cultural heritage) in favor of films with vocal champions, such as the laughably
pretentious Neruda. That is a shame,
because Amanat is a smart,
historically-aware film in the tradition of the Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble and Katyn. Where Neruda knowingly
and deliberately plays it fast-and-lose with the truth for the sake of scoring propaganda
points, Amanat indicts the bowdlerization
of the historical record to serve the ruling authorities.
his ancestor, Kenesary Khan was a comparatively progressive figure, especially
compared to the Czarist Russia. Eventually, he led a revolt against the Czar’s
imperialist encroachment that was ultimately crushed by the Russian Army.
Having won the war, the Czars libeled Khan a ruthless savage in their history
books—and the Soviets continued the tradition. The open-minded wunderkind
historian Ermukhan Bekmakhanov’s scholarship painted a very different picture,
but it quickly led him afoul of the Stalinist thought police.
like his subject, the record of Bekmakhanov and his published papers was
suppressed until the historian was posthumously rehabilitated under Khrushchev.
However, no such revisionism was extended to Kenesary Khan. At this point, the
brilliant but scuffling journalist Ramazan Duman starts investigating the Bekmakhanov
Affair, tracking down his censored papers and befriending his widow, Khalima.
Unbeknownst to Duman, Buchin, the very same KGB agent that hounded Bekmakhanov,
starts assembling a dossier on him. Yet even the rather naïve Duman understands
1968 is not a great year for truth-telling behind the Iron Curtain.
dexterously juggles three distinct timelines, following Kenesary Khan as he prepares
for his ill-fated final battle, Bekmakhanov as guilelessly falls victim to a
Stalinist purge, and Duman as he risks the same fate. It gives the film a
massively tragic sweep and a sense of the ironic forces compelling history to
repeat itself. Frankly, this is exactly the sort of film the Academy section
voters appreciate, but they will need confidence in their judgment to opt for
such a dark horse, which would be out of character.
the rest of us civilians can appreciate Amanat
as the fine film it is, if and when it finds wider festival screenings and distribution
in the West. It is a big picture kind of film, but it still features a number
of first-rate performances, most definitely including the radiant yet
heart-rending Karlygash Muhamedzhanova as Khalima Bekmakhanova. Berik Aitzhanov
is so tragically dignified as Ermukhan it practically hurts to watch him, but
he also develops some rather sweet and lovely chemistry with Muhamedzhanova. Sanzhar
Madiev’s Kenesary Khan is more of symbol than a flesh-and-blood character, but
he certainly looks the part donning the armor. However, Aziz Beishenaliev might
just make the year’s best villain as the steely cool, game-playing Buchin.
is an ambitious period production, encompassing
the 1840s, the late 1940s into the early 1950s, and 1968, but it is also an uncomfortably
timely film. It really deserves to find a wide audience both in the West and
within Kazakhstan. It would also be nice if it reached viewers in Russia, but
that is probably asking too much. Hopefully, the Palm Springs International
film fest will screen it, since the foreign language submissions are its specialty.
Very highly recommended, Amanat deserves
a spot on the shortlist, which might already be out by the time you read these
Labels: Communism, Kazakh Cinema