March 11, 2004

Cornell Cinema

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Like the rich, vibrant tapestry in its opening scene, Beshkempir plays like a beautifully constructed montage of various images. With minimal dialogue and an intimate setting, the movie explores the day-to-day life of rural residents in an exotic setting while at the same time integrating timeless themes common to all cultures.

Set in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic, the movie is the coming-of-age tale of Beshkempir, an average adolescent boy. Basking in the normalcy of childhood, Beshkempir gets into trouble with friends, flirts chastely with girls, and even develops a love for feature films. An argument with his best friend over, you guessed it, a girl, leads to the revelation that he was adopted. Beshkempir must then deal with his true identity as well as his continuous maturation into adulthood.

Written and directed by Aktan Abdykalykov, Beshkempir is an exercise in simplicity that packs more meaning into a single shot than typical Hollywood movies do in their entire duration. There are no special effects or witty banter here, but merely the honest portrayal of life, as experienced by realistic characters. The movie is autobiographical on some levels, as Abdykalykov, himself, shared the same identity crisis as his title character.

Beshkempir is shot entirely in black and white, although it favors brightness over shadows. Spontaneous shots, filmed in color, are inserted at several points in the film and provide character insight towards the presented imagery. All the colored shots are from the first person perspective and tend to focus on a specific object — whether it is the movie screen as Beshkempir indulges in an Indian film, or the colored feathers of a bird that Beshkempir finds trapped behind a window.

Small in scope, Beshkempir takes place solely within a small, rural village. Secluded from the outside world, the true beauty of Kyrgyzstan emerges through the undisturbed setting. Fruit trees, flower blossoms, and roadside ponds are frequent markers along this guided tour of Kyrgyzstan as the audience travels alongside Beshkempir on his journey of growing up.

Camera techniques are the most memorable aspects of Beshkempir, a startling pretty film that exudes a unique style. Abdykalykov paces the film patiently, always concentrating on specific details in a scene before panning out to reveal the full scope of his camera. In one scene, although we hear Beshkempir arguing with his father, Abdykalykov concentrates the camera on a dripping water pipe, slowly sharpening the background until the standing figures of the two people talking are revealed.

Framing and attention to detail make Beshkempir a distinct film. Abdykalykov respects the natural environment he borrowed and spends much of the movie carefully highlighting physical aspects and cultural habits unique to his home. Abdykalykov tends to mix content with context, framing important action against the backdrop of a visually unique scene. Momentous dialogue is delivered against the calming rhythms of village women as they go through typical farming rituals, never breaking the beat of their movement despite a disagreement brewing among them.

Beshkempir makes no allusions to being a feature film. There are no explanations and no cultural background provided to facilitate understanding. The film’s already sparce dialogue contains no expository aspects. Abdykalykov’s film makes no excuses, providing audiences with a realistic glimpse of life in Kyrgyzstan without attempting to entertain them with an amusing anecdote. The powerful mood created by Beshkempir allows it to incite responses in all audience members. A true art film, Beshkempir is both a mental and visual experience.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang