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A rare cinematic export from the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, Night Accident transforms some very modest ingredients into a heart-stirring hymn to the healing power of love and simple human kindness. Assembled with haiku-like precision, director Temirbek Birnazarov’s bittersweet chamber drama is based on a short story called The Old Man and the Angel by Talip Ibraimov. Further festival bookings appear likely for this winner of the Grand Prix at Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn earlier this month; Birnazarov’s hugely charming two-hander then may well follow recent Kyrgyz art house favorite Centaur into niche theatrical slots.
World-weary Tentike (Akylbek Abdykalykov) is heading into old age alone, defeated and disappointed by his hardscrabble life. His demeaning manual job entails digging sewer pits for a wealthy property tycoon who, by a cruel twist of fate, turns out to be the man who stole his wife years before. After a humiliating confrontation with his former rival, Tentike belatedly resolves to take violent revenge. But his plans go awry when he accidentally collides with a mysterious young woman (Dina Jakob) while riding his motorcycle on a lonely stretch of moonlit highway.
Tentike transports the dazed, bleeding stranger back to his humble lakeside cottage, where he nurses her back to health with an almost religious devotion. A tentative bond develops between this unlikely pair, the old man immersed in simple domestic chores, his guest sullen and silent. Even when Tentike realizes he is harboring the chief suspect in a murder investigation, he continues to shield the woman with intense secrecy, turning away visitors and shunning neighbors.
While Birnazarov deftly defuses any hint of pan-generational sexual activity, the odd couple in his fable-like story soon settle into a cozy domestic routine. They even take day trips on Tentike’s battered motorcycle and sidecar, surely the most endearingly crappy such combo outside the Wallace and Gromit movies. Their pilgrimage to the dusty ruins of a concrete theater invokes some of the masterly compositional power of vintage Antonioni.
But, of course, this artificial state of grace cannot last. The real world starts to intrude on the reclusive duo with increasing force, starting with a queasy attempted rape scene that shifts in tone from horror to dark comedy. The stranger stands her ground with a shotgun, one of several scenes where the script makes it clear she has autonomous agency away from Tentike’s male gaze. She may remain an unnamed enigma throughout the film, but she is emphatically not some Asiatic Pixie Dream Girl. By the time they come to part, these two lost souls have helped each other achieve a kind of salvation.
Night Accident is unapologetically slow in tempo, spare in style and poetic in tone. Defying screenplay convention, it offers us zero backstory and scant character detail, yet it still manages to speak volumes by saying very little. With its long, wordless vignettes and tight-lipped female lead, it almost functions like a silent film at times. The sleepy pacing may grate with some, while the conceit of a lead character who remains selectively mute feels contrived, but the cumulative effect is gently hypnotic. A hushed soundtrack mostly composed of softly lapping waves, chirruping crickets and sparingly deployed antique pop ballads only serves to reinforce this overall sense of unhurried, timeless, lyrical beauty.
Production company: Kyrgyzfilm
Cast: Dina Jakob, Akylbek Abdykalykov
Director: Temirbek Birnazarov
Screenwriters: Nurifa Umuralieva, Temirbek Birnazarov; based on The Old Man and the Angel by Talip Ibraimov
Producer: Gulmira Kerimova
Cinematographer: Kabyljan Khamidov
Music: Asylbek Ozubekov
Editors: Ziregul Kubandyk Kyzy, Kulchoro Sydykov.
Venue: Black Nights Film Festival, Tallinn
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