Who is Adilkhan Yerzhanov, the prodigy of Kazakh cinema?

Who is Adilkhan Yerzhanov, the prodigy of Kazakh cinema?

Assault and The Education of Ademoka allow us to discover the cinema of this atypical director, who imposes himself between the melancholy of Kaurismaki and the violence of Kitano. “Very nice !!”, as the other genius of the country said.

You will have to learn to write his name. Adilkhan Yerzhanov born on August 7, 1982 in Djekazgan (a pleasant town in Kazakhstan), is the new bombshell of cinemas in the East. Honored in La Rochelle, and with two films in theaters next week, it was time to meet this gifted little boy from the eastern steppes. A graduate of the Kazakhstan Academy of Arts, Yerzhanov is part of the new guard of revered and free filmmakers that has sprung up at the turn of the new millennium. Some critics have nicknamed them “the new New Wave”, in reference to their predecessors (such as Daréjan Omirbaev or Serik Aprymov, totem filmmakers of the Kazakh New Wave who raged in the 1990s).

This is all nice, but doesn’t help much. Maybe we should listen to what he has to say first. About the Partisan movement that he founded with some friends in the early 2000s, this is what Yerzhanov explained: “It is a phenomenon that must exist, in one form or another, in every country. Of course, it’s a cinema that is made with little budget or no budget at all. But it is not the most important. In Kazakhstan, any living film, which wants to talk about real life and contemporary society, whose characters are not like cardboard figurines, is considered partisan cinema. This is the cinema that the Kazakh state does not want to see.

The principle of his cinema? Free yourself from all shackles (state funding, expectation of ordinary spectators, censorship and marketing). From the beginning, Yerzhanov practices a cinema free which sends everything to waltz. It is an admirable art of the fuck you, which makes fun of conveniences, genres, and practices hybridization with explosive joy. Extremely prolific, he has signed a handful of shorts, chained around fifteen feature films in just over ten years. If only a handful have been released in France, we still know what his work looks like.

In fact, in front of his films, we think a lot of punk or marginal geniuses. Kaurismaki or Kitano for example. From the arched Finn he possesses the miniature weapons: burlesque grimaces, elegant absurdity, laughing silence and orgies of alcohol or criminal vapors. From the Japanese buffoon (it’s a compliment!) he probably stole the dialogues and the wacky situations, the sarcasm, the violence and the scenes of absurd killings, and the infinity as a setting (in Yerzhanov the snow replaces the kitanesque sea ) which amplifies the impression of smallness of human misery. In any case, from the two he draws a crazy mannerism that often leads to perpetual dazzling.

But what are we really talking about? The hatching of Yerzhanov dates back to us from the release of The tender indifference of the world and of A Dark Dark Man. With the first, presented at Cannes in 2018 in the Un Certain Regard section, he delivered a strikingly formal fable in which love and purity were immersed in a paralyzing bath of cruelty. Beautiful but distant. In A Dark Dark Man, the filmmaker denounced organized corruption, intrinsic violence and perpetual tragedy. Portrait of a young cop corrupt to the core, the meeting of this policeman and a committed journalist (responsible for following him for a report) was going to push the “hero” into his entrenchments. Burlesque swerves, dry and ultragraphic violence: here revealed the raw talent of Yerzhanov. It was still a little forced, a little indecisive, but he clearly displayed the DNA of his rebellious and provocative films.

With Assaultwhich comes out this week, our favorite Kazakh shows what kind of wood he is really warming up. Assault still tells this country plagued by corruption and abuse of power. But to talk about all this, Yerzhanov prefers satire to indictment. The film therefore advances in an absurd mode and describes with humor full of nonsense the hostage taking of a school by masked men. As the roads are blocked and the police cannot intervene, the local adults will organize themselves to come to the aid of the student prisoners. It comes at the cost of bloodshed and grotesque happenings – this world of bullies harbors a healthy dose of ridiculousness and hopeless romanticism. Stylish, sad, confusing and exotic, Assault advance in balance. Between the western (we think of Hawks and Carpenter – and not only for the title), the slapstick (scents of Tati) and the film noir (the filmmaker has clearly studied the crazy films of the Coens). But behind this tightrope walking there is above all the powerful sense of the frame, a jubilant mania (a pipe initially source of gag becomes a fatal weapon) as well as the surrealist approach of the genre.

In A Dark Dark Man as in Assault, the plot is basically always a pretext. The goal with Yerzhanov is to explode the structures or clichés of the genre to sink into a tormented itinerary, where the staging imposes a slight step back, a certain shift. The viewer is then forced to look at reality differently. The choreographed conduct of the characters, the austere decors disciplined by the frame, the atmosphere of the end of the world are each time counterbalanced by a cold comedy, which arises without warning. It’s violent, beautiful, but above all very moral. (And incredibly shot too).

So there Ademoka’s Education. Here, he is exploring new territory. This time, the black varnish is cracking, and the filmmaker dares drama and pure emotion by following the path of a young girl who bumps into life with naivety and above all a desire to fight it out – two characteristics which make her deeply endearing. Ademoka, this is the poetic side of Yerzhanov’s cinema. Naivety is one of the recurring traits of his characters, and it often defines their fragility as much as their strength. Facing the cruelty of the world around them, the heroes of his films resist through dreams, poetry or naivety. We also find there, the other great characteristic of his film: the burlesque. This humor infuses all of his films – and beyond that, the look of his characters (a little awkward, with clumsiness, blunders or other uncontrolled falls) even defines a disturbed and complex relationship to the world.

In short: powerful and very broad synthesis of world cinema (it mixes Asia, burlesque and American genres with finesse) while being incredibly idiosyncratic, Yerzhanov’s cinema is incredibly rich. Assaut and Ademoka are the two real discoveries of this summer and it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to get to know a filmmaker who we risk talking about again very soon… Jageshemash!

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