'Heavenly Nomadic': Mumbai Review

Kyrgyzstan: 'Heavenly Nomadic,' Mirlan Abdykalykov

A visually stunning ethnographic drama about horse herders on the steppes, this is Abdykalykov's feature debut and sees him stepping into the very big shoes of his father, acclaimed auteur Aktan Abdykalykov.

A delicate feature debut that lacks strongly delineated characters.

The traditional nomadic way of life is threatened in the mountain gorges of Kyrgyzstan.

Casting a nostalgic eye on Kyrgyzstan’s quickly disappearing traditional lifestyle on the great plains, the enigmatically titled Heavenly Nomadic (a.k.a. Sutak) rides the well-worn path of lost paradise films. Wild horses gallop across majestic landscapes in Mirlan Abdykalykov’s romantic, beautifully lensed and very atmospheric first feature, which is Kyrgyzstan’s hopeful for both the Golden Globe and Academy Awards. Its warmth and wistful humor have already collected a critics' nod at Karlovy Vary and the grand prix at both the Kinoshok and Eurasia film festivals. But the film’s leisurely pace and highly familiar characters are likely to limit life outside festival showcases.

The threat of encroaching modernization is dramatized through a family of horse breeders in the high mountains of the Chon-Ashu valley. Unlike the fetching Chinese film River about Tibetan shepherds, which it resembles in many ways, there is little sense of individuality in the characters or even strong personality traits to hook the viewer. Rather, they are representative of three generations of nomads: the elderly grandparents, their dead son’s widow Shaiyr (Talaikan Abazova) who masterfully herds the horses, and her two children. Her small daughter Umsunai is Grandpa’s pet, like him closely tied to the land, folklore, rites and spells of an ancient tradition. She believes her father, who was killed in an accident, has turned into an eagle that flies overhead. Her older brother, on the other hand, is studying architecture in the city and is dazzled by its discos, cinemas and girls. Though he values the elaborate rock drawings of hunters left behind by their ancestors  (and disquietingly threatened by several enormous trucks that are clearing the land), he has a more forward-looking attitude.

There’s talk of a railroad cutting through the valley, an idea that incenses the grandfather. One outside element that has already come into their lives is a dignified visiting meteorologist, Ermek (exquisitely portrayed by Jenishbek Kangheldiev), who has fallen for the horsewoman Shaiyr. Their delicate courtship forces her to make a choice between personal happiness and a traditional way of life that may not last very much longer. This is the only bit of suspense in an otherwise staid film.

Unsurprisingly, the old folks are the most fearful of change. The patriarch (Tabyldy Aktanov) still tries to rule over the family in the old style despite his frailty, while his wife fights a losing battle to keep everything the same. Amid all their anxiety, an umbrella from the city becomes a positive symbol of innovation, offering shelter and protection from the sun.

Abdykalykov delicately balances these simple elements, underlining the warmth and affection of family ties. Cinematographer Talant Akynbekov’s soulful lighting and compositions capture the peace of the great open spaces surrounded by snow-capped peaks and sun-drenched valleys.

Production companies: Aitysh Film, Oy Art Film Producing Co.

Cast:  Talaikan Abazova, Anara Nazarkuilova, Tabyldy Aktanov, Jenishbek Kangheldiev, Jibek Baktybekova, Myrza Subanbekov

Director: Mirlan Abdykalykov

Screenwriters: Aktan Arym Kubat, Ernest Abdyjaparov

Producer: Sadyk Sher-Niyaz

Coproducer: Altynai Koichumanova

Director of photography: Talant Akynbekov

Production designer:Adis Seitaliev

Costume designer: Mira Kerimalieva

Editor: Eldiar Madakim

Music: Murzali Jenbaev

World sales: Pluto Film Distribution  

No rating, 81 minutes