In the case of “A Place on the Tricorne,” less is decidedly more. Working from a script that strips away everything but the bare bones of its voyage into suspended existence, Kazakh director Ermek Shinarbaev conjures a penetrating mood that lingers long after the end credits have rolled. Winner of the Golden Leopard at Locarno last summer, this contemplative slice of Generation X ennui in Alma-Ata should continue to roam the festival map, but a less obscure title might take it further.
The film tracks one summer in the life of an indolent 20-year-old poet (Adilkhan Essenbulatov), whose days are spent writing, talking, listening to Maria Callas and floating in a drug-induced stupor. Ignoring his mother’s reprimands about idleness, he drifts between encounters with friends and various lovers, consciously opting to pull back and mull over the world from a distance rather than grapple with the uncertain realities of living in the post-Soviet Kazakh capital.
Disengagement extends to his relationships with women, causing ripples of conflict. The uncomplicated camaraderie of sharing a joint with a friend is the closest thing to satisfying human contact in his life. But a darker edge sidles into his prolonged reflection, gradually steering him to a suicide attempt.
With his sharp, angular features and gaunt frame, Essenbulatov gives the melancholy, psychological scrutiny a worthy focus. Dialogue is minimal, but the actor superbly limns the character’s shifting states of mind using little more than his piercing gaze.
Shot mostly in warmly lit interiors, with the camera lavishly detailing ostensibly routine acts, the film’s quiet power owes as much to Serguey Kosmanev’s graceful lensing as to Shinarbaev’s controlled, sensitive direction.