'Adventure' ('Priklyuchenie'): Karlovy Vary Review

Courtesy of Karlovy Vary Film Festival
A low-stakes drama that demands a lot of work from the viewer.

The third film of Kazakh director Nariman Turebayev ("Sunny Days") is a contemporary, Almaty-set adaptation of Dostoyevsky's "White Nights."

An Almaty security guard becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman he spies across the road from his workplace every night in Adventure (Priklyuchenie), which, unlike what the title might suggest, is a slender and hushed adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s oft-filmed short story "White Nights." This third feature from Kazakh director Nariman Turebayev should appeal to fans of deliberately paced — read: slow-moving — foreign films, with a good festival run likely, but chances of a theatrical release beyond Russophone countries are about as minimal as the film’s use of dialogue.

Marat (Azamat Nigmanov, The Convoy) is a night watchman at a nondescript office building in the former Kazakh capital. Indeed, so little happens during his long hours in the empty building that the solitary employee often has a nap or two — and the slippery structure devised by the writer-director and his editor, Aybol Kasymzhanov, leaves it unclear whether Marat's encounters with Mariyam (newcomer Aynur Niyazova), whom he first spots across the street from the office, are happening in reality or in his dreams.

Like the short story (whose earlier cinematic incarnations include works directed by the likes of Visconti, Bresson, James Gray and Ivan “high priest of Stalinist cinema” Pyryev), Turebayev’s film takes place over four consecutive nights. Mariyam shows up at the same place every night, waiting for her lover who has left her and who promised he’d return a year later.

However, when Marat works up the courage to finally talk to Mariyam, it turns out that she’s already been waiting for a little longer than a year. This feeds Marat’s hope that the unseen lover will never return, so he could potentially make a move on her himself, and also helps Mariyam slowly ease into a tentative acquaintance with the guard, though she does warn him early on that she’s “a dangerous woman.”

As played by Nigmanov, Marat is someone with such a dull routine, and no friends or acquaintances (presumably not helped by his ungodly working hours), that his face has frozen into a rigid mask that barely betrays any kind of emotion, positive or negative. Consequently, only his words — few, very few — and his actions offer potential clues about what he might be thinking.

When Marat lets Mariyam lead him away from his professional duties several times to accompany her, it doesn’t feel so much like he’s being lured away by this enchanting woman specifically,  but rather that he’s finally breaking the monotony of his own pitiful existence. There’s a sense that he would probably be unable to do so on his own, but that he can now comfortably blame any fallout from this choice on his new female acquaintance should something go wrong. (It will come as no surprise for viewers familiar with Dostoyevsky’s work that something invariably will.)

By replacing the novel’s explicit first-person narration with a series of well-observed but quite detached scenes that audiences will have to decrypt for themselves, Turebayev has made a daring move that makes the film both potentially more interesting but also less easily readable, since the story’s emotional undercurrents might initially seem quite opaque. This shouldn’t necessarily turn off seasoned art house viewers, though there is a sense, as the film draws to a close, that the film’s protagonist remains somewhat removed from both the viewer and his own life.

Technically, this a modest but precise production, with the classical score by Irena Scalerika neatly contrasting with local dance music played in places the unlikely duo visit during some of the film’s best scenes, when, perhaps a tad ironically, they open up not to each other but to random strangers.

Production companies: Kazakhfilm, Arizona

Cast: Azamat Nigmanov, Aynur Niyazova

Writer-director: Nariman Turebayev, screenplay based on the short story "White Nights" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Producers: Anna Kachko, Guillaume de Seille

Executive producer: Yerzhan Akhmetzhanov

Director of photography: Kazbek Amerzhanov

Production designer: Munir Akhmetzhanov

Editor: Aybol Kasymzhanov

Composer: Irena Scalerika

Sales: Pascale Ramonda

No rating, 81 minutes