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
Călin Boto is a Romanian emergent film critic and the editor-in-chief of Film Menu, a film magazine edited by students of the Film University in National University of Film and Drama in Bucharest (UNATC). He has written articles for several cultural publications such as Dilema Veche,Dissolved Magazine, SUB25 and he coordinates Film Menu’s weekly cineclub. At the moment he’s working on a bachelor's degree on the films and film criticism of Jonas Mekas.
Barbara Majsa was born and raised in Hungary, but currently resides in Sweden and attends Stockholm University for Cinema Studies. She has worked as a journalist since 2009, and has covered several film festivals. Barbara is the managing editor at Cinema Scandinavia, where she interviews film-makers and focuses her work on artistic and cultural products that reflect upon society - films concerning social, societal, economic and political issues.
Yulia Kuzischina is a film journalist, based in Moscow. She studied visual culture at Higher School of Economics and later started to write for two film-related websites, RussoRosso and Kinomania.ru. Currently she also works at a film sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution. Her main field of interest is Eastern European cinema.
Tomáš Hudák is a programmer and a film critic based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Programming at independent cultural centre A4 – Space for contemporary culture, which focus on challenging and experimental art, is his main occupation throughout a year. He is also associated with IFF Cinematik in Pieštany, Bratislava IFF, and Film Festival 4 Elements in Banská Štiavnica. Regularly writing for film magazine Kinečko, his texts also appeared in other publications such as Senses of Cinema, Tess Magazine etc. In past, he worked as a film archivist at Slovak Film Institute and his archival research resulted in two papers on local film history.
Daria Badior is a film critic and a Culture Editor of LB.ua, one of Ukraine’s biggest online newspapers. Focuses on writing about contemporary Ukrainian cinema. Also she co-curates a project on LB.ua named Short-list about young Ukrainian filmmakers. Since 2017 takes part in selecting films for Kyiv Film Critics Week, a new film festival held at the end of October. A member of FIPRESCI.
Łukasz Mańkowski Half of the Asian Cinema focused blog ‘Referat Filmowy’, Japanese Studies and Film Theory graduate from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, specializing in Asian Film. Occasionally photographer, translator and theatre-film journalist who simply loves ramen. Previously member of 5 Flavours Film Festival People’s Jury, FEFF Udine Student Campus and EIFF Student Critics Competition.
TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project
Yoana Pavlova is a Bulgarian writer, researcher, and programmer currently based in Paris.Her field of work includes cinema, VR, digital culture, and the New East. She is the foundingeditor of Festivalists.com (a playform for experimental media criticism), with bylines fornumerous print and online publications in Bulgarian, English, and French. Contributor to thefollowing books: Cinemas of Paris (2016, St Andrews Film Studies), Eastern Promises (2014,Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia – San Sebastián), The Bulgarian Nouvelle Vague(2012, Edno).
Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering filmfestivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for BerlinaleTalents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.