Thursday, January 14, 2021

Film Maudit 2.0: A Dark, Dark Man

Sacha Baron Cohen really ought to show some respect, but that is obviously too much to expect. The truth is Kazakhstan has produced some remarkably challenging and intriguing films in recent years (they are films, not “moviefilms”) that deserve much more international recognition. Yet, they are often more pointedly critical of contemporary Kazakhstani society and politics than Borat ever was. Indeed, the sexism and corruption of provincial police and officials are blisteringly depicted in Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s A Dark, Dark Man, which screens as part of the online Film Maudit 2.0 festival.

By this time, Bezkat knows the drill. When another orphan boy is discovered, murdered and sexually violated, he immediately sets out to frame Pekuar, the village’s developmentally disabled pariah. That is not good enough for the local political boss, who bribes Bezkat’s superior to insure Pekuar “accidentally” dies within 24 hours. Bezkat is just about to proceed with the grim business, when Ariana arrives. The big city journalist has credentials allowing her access to Pekuar and Bezkat during his investigation.

Much to his annoyance, Bezkat must go through the motions of conducting a real investigation, with the journalist, the accused, and his not-quite-as-childlike “girlfriend” in tow. Obviously, it gets super-awkward for the crooked cop, when he crosses paths with the boss and his henchmen, especially as he gradually grows to respect Ariana’s honesty and idealism.

Dark Dark
is definitely a slow-burner, with the slowness being no exaggeration, but the white-hot burning part is no joke either. This is truly a remarkably tightly controlled and tautly constructed art-house thriller. You might forget to breathe regularly watching this one.

As Bezkat, Daniar Alshinov is a hulking, brooding, sullen, yet shockingly transfixing presence. He constantly surprises, while maintaining his hard-bitten façade. The give-and-take between him and Dinara Baktybaeva (as Ariana, who may or may not be as naïve as we presume) is fascinating to watch.

The narrative is relatively straight-forward, but Yerzhanov lets it unfold in clever, elliptical ways. It also looks absolutely terrific, thanks to the stunning steppe backdrop and the inventive framing of cinematographer Aydar Sharipov. Thanks to his work and Yerzhanov’s visual sensibilities,
Dark Dark stands up to direct comparison with the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple. It really is that kind of film. Very highly recommended, A Dark, Dark Man screens (for free) within the United States, now through Sunday (1/24), as part of Film Maudit 2.0.