Emir Baigazin returns with his third feature, The River, which concludes his coming-of-age trilogy, consisting of Harmony Lessons (2013) and The Wounded Angel (2016). Consequently to his previous work, he decided to match the symbolism in which the dark times of modernity are presented in slow cinema form. The River offers not only an aesthetic experience, but also a check-up into the vitals of humanity from a contemporary perspective.
In a parched landscape, a family ranch of seven set in the middle of Kazakh, Baizagin paints a disturbing and almost dystopic picture of what it takes to become a man for these five boys. This image of patriarchy is biblical to say the least, because Aslan and the rest of the pack wouldn’t look out of place in an Old Testament story. In Baigazin’s version of one, on the 7th day God created the Internet, disrupting the lives of those down below. In addition to its commentary on the role of mass entertainment and its pervasive influence, it depicts a family living on the line of a pre-internet era - a bubble without consciousness of global events and a purer world that has yet to embrace the tempting power of digital media. When the stranger with a tablet appears, the bubble pops, forcing the family to re-assess the nature of their daily needs.
The Zygmunt Bauman-style concept of the stranger proves that modernity should be discussed within film as a medium, capturing the liquid essence of our times. The River becomes a statement on the descent towards abnormality, with the sudden intrusion of technology into the lives of these boys being contrasted with the panta rhei-esque fluidity of the river. In Baigazin’s world, this sacred body of water becomes an amusement park, a place to let your bad emotions float away, and an opportunity for shutting down your feelings. It adds a little mystery to the story that the other bank remains unknown for a half of the film. Due to the strong currents, crossing the river is the ultimate challenge, an act of transcendence.
One may say that Baizagin style revolves around minimalism, but in fact it is rather a maximalistic spectrum of symbolic references combined into a tale of disillusionment of modernity. On the opposite side of the river, the other is only imaginable through the lens of the media. What we care about is us and what revolves around us. Radio coverages from Myanmar or North Korea spice up the director’s commitment to conceptualizing an ideological point of view, simultaneously providing his characters (and the audience) with a form of counseling, and bringing up the topic of human viciousness.
Even the acting style, in particular those of the brothers, is performative; their dynamics and movements are carefully staged with an Ozu-esque eye for symmetry. On the one hand, they resemble primal creatures, as if the monkeys from Kubrick’s 2001 had finally evolved; on the other, you can’t shake the sense of how calculated it feels. An algorithmic nature and an exact mirroring evoke the contrast that modern society is situated in. We’re drifting between the primal and the mechanical. The condition of the individual illustrated in the film presents an alternative perspective on reality, one in which the media hasn’t influenced people enough yet, but it is progressively getting there. The wave of catastrophical information, sinking into a utopian bubble, irreversibly changes the biblical dimension of the brothers’ world. That’s when modernity kicks in: the intrigue starts, and the ‘black mirror’ of a digital screen invites people to be a god. Baizagin himself is worshipping it, delivering a profound, rich experience and an almost frightening re-envisioning of Lanthimos’ Kynodontas (2009).
FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Lemana Filandra is a writer and editor at "Klifhenger" (www.klifhenger.com), a site dedicated to movie analyses in Bosnian and English. She has been working as a freelance writer, a researcher, and a translator for the last three years. Currently, She is working on a PhD thesis in philosophy, focused on intersectional feminism and political implications of the concept of body. In the past she had different professional engagements at Sarajevo Film Festival, one of the most prominent European festivals. She also worked as a producer of a music video, a script supervisor and an assistant to a movie director.
Levan Tskhovrebadze is a student of film studies in Ilia State University, Georgia. He has written and made other kind of journalistic content for Georgian outlets like Indigo, Cinemania.ge or Demo.ge. Recently he started working for Ilia State University online publication Cinexpress.iliauni.edu.ge where he writes reviews, articles and also translates some of the important articles or interviews about cinema into Georgian. He has covered few festivals as a film critic. He was doing video blogs for Berlin International Film Festival 2019th edition and has made some content at CinéDOC-Tbilisi and Batumi International Art-House Film Festival. Cinexpress is also the Ilia State University’s Film Club where he made public reports before screenings.
Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a film critic and journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. She is currently working for Vertigo.com.ua, one of the largest Ukrainian websites devoted to the film industry and entertainment in general. She is also the host of two podcasts about movies and TV.
Denisa Jašová is a PhD student of Audiovisual Studies at Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. As a Film Studies and Archival Science graduate, she specializes on archival research in film and TV history, especially on Czechoslovak amateur film and TV non-fiction programmes from 70s and 80s. She also works as a researcher for TV documentaries, as a librarian in the Central European House of Photography and as a talk show host in student radio talk show called Cinefil. She frequently writes for magazine Film.sk, IFF Cinematik Piešťany and her first paper about the history of Slovak amateur film will be released in October 2019 in Kino-Ikon magazine. She simply loves film archives.
Bogdan Balla is a Romanian experimental film director and freelance film critic based in Bucharest. He studies film directing at the National University of Theatre and Film and writes for FILM MENU. Besides directing and producing his own films, he also works as an independent freelance film critic. He reads bell hooks and is passionate about queer cinema. He has a preference for working with archival footage for his films.
Svetlana Semenchuk is an author of such publications on cinema as “Seanse”, “The Art of Cinema”, “Cinema TV” and other. The author-composer of the books “S. M. Eisenstein: pro et contra: Sergey Eisenstein in national reflection: anthology” and “E. F. Bauer: pro et contra. Eugene Frantsevich Bauer in assessments of contemporaries, colleagues, researchers, film critics. Anthology”. Teacher of the St. Petersburg New Cinema School, and at the St. Petersburg State University of Cinema and Television.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Amber Wilkinson is a journalist with more than 20 years experience. She is the co-founder and editorial director of UK-based website Eye For Film. Her byline has appeared in The Times, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Filmmaker Magazine among others. She also contributes as a freelance film critic on BBC Radio Scotland. She has run several FIPRESCI young critics' workshops and mentored student critics at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2018 and 2019.
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering film festivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for Berlinale Talents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.