Asimple, humanist fable about the rewards of goodness and generosity in the face of arrogance and injustice, “The Flight of the Bee” acknowledges a debt to the poetic realism of Satyajit Ray. The low-budget, B&W first feature from Tajikistan, co-directed by Jamshed Usmonov and South Korean Min Biong Hun, dominated the awards at the 16th Turin Film Festival, winning top honors from the competition jury as well as the Fipresci international critics nod and the audience vote for most popular feature. Limited by its modest production values to fests and specialized forums, the film’s measured rhythms and basic message of hope nonetheless should travel well.
Set in a small mountain village, the chronicle of an obsessive quest for dignity and basic human rights carries vague echoes of Zhang Yimou’s “The Story of Qiu Ju.” The wronged party in this fable is the local teacher, whose innate sense of fairness and consideration is irked when his wealthy neighbor constructs an outdoor toilet right under his window, its smell permeating the teacher’s whole house. Further incensed by the neighbor’s relentless ogling of his wife, the teacher goes to an unsympathetic town official for help but is told the man has violated no laws.
Selling his sheep and cattle for capital, the teacher buys property also adjoining his neighbor’s and begins digging a hole to be used as a latrine by the entire village. Threats from his neighbor, the town official and the police fail to make him desist, causing his wife to step in andcompromise her own principles for the good of her family. In true parable fashion, the teacher’s quest ends not with defeat but with unforeseen rewards when his digging unearths a natural spring, bringing water to the previously dry village.
Dedicated to Ray and scored with his music, “The Flight of the Bee” doesn’t quite achieve the emotional directness and clarity of the late Bengali filmmaker’s work. But kinship is evident in its unforced examination of issues regarding equality, community, human dignity and personal protest against unyielding bureaucracy. Made under reportedly extreme conditions during the ongoing civil war in Tajikistan, the humane tale benefits from its fluid camerawork and lyrical rural imagery. In addition to Turin prizes, the pic also received the runner-up Silver Alexander Award at the recent Thessaloniki fest in Greece.