In this accomplished second feature, Tajik director Djamshed Usmonov returns to his native village to film a parable about good and evil. Like his much-prized maiden effort "Flight of the Bee," "Angel on the Right" circles around big themes with a light touch, painting the village of Asht as a magical place where miracles can happen.

In this accomplished second feature, Tajik director Djamshed Usmonov returns to his native village to film a parable about good and evil. Like his much-prized maiden effort “Flight of the Bee,” “Angel on the Right” circles around big themes with a light touch, painting the village of Asht as a magical place where miracles can happen to the offbeat but down-to-earth inhabitants. The gentle wit of this European co-prod should pick up festival support that will help it find its way to specialized venues.

Small-time thug Hamro (Maruf Pulodzoda) returns from Moscow to see his dying mother, Halima (Uktamoi Miyasarova). To satisfy her last wish, he has her house fixed up so that her coffin may pass through two carved wooden doors and not have to be humiliatingly lifted over the garden wall.

Pic’s first turnaround is his discovery that he’s fallen into a trap set by the mayor and villagers to whom he owes money; they lured him back to the village hoping to collect their debts after he sells the house. In reality, however, Halima isn’t dying at all, she just wanted to have her doors repaired.

Hamro’s troubles are compounded when boss “Tarzan” and his gangsters turn up to collect debts Hamro has racked up in Moscow. More of the past comes back to haunt him when wide-eyed little Amin, his illegitimate son, is dumped on his doorstep, and when his ex, Savri (Malohat Maqsumova), tries to warm up their truncated relationship.

Title comes from an Islamic children’s story, in which everyone is accompanied through life by two angels who record good deeds (the angel on the right) and bad. When a person dies, the two records are weighed on the Scales of Truth. Film’s charm lies in the way Usmonov calibrates the fairy-tale atmosphere of his tiny Central Asian town with the changing society of Tajikistan, which has been wracked by civil war for the last seven years and where criminality has become a way of life. Hamro, a small mean cog in the machine, is shown as a product of this world while his mother, no angel herself, hangs on to older values.

The deadpan non-pro cast, which includes the director’s brother as Hamro and mother as Halima, delivers concisely written dialogue with dry humor. Cinematographer Pascal Lagriffoul uses weak winter light drained of color and simple camerawork to give the film a sophisticated look. Maslodov Farosatshoev’s sets are in the same understated spirit, made charming by details like the tigers and eagles painted on Halima’s house.

Angel on the Right

Un Certain Regard / Italy-Switzerland-France-Tajikistan

Production

A Haut et Court release (in France) of a Fabrica Cinema, RAI Cinema, Ventura Film, TSI Swiss Television, Artcam Intl., Asht Village co-production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Marco Muller. Directed, written by Djamshed Usmonov.

Crew

Camera (color), Pascal Lagriffoul; editor, Jacques Comets; music, Michael Galasso; production designer, Maslodov Farosatshoev; sound (Dolby), Dana Farzanehpou'; associate producers, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli, Joel Farges, Elise Jalladeau, Veronique Marty, Djamshed Usmonov. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard),May 24, 2002. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Halima - Uktamoi Miyasarova Hamro - Maruf Pulodzoda Yatim - Kova Tilavpur Mayor - Mardonqul Qulbobo Savri - Malohat Maqsumova
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