A penniless musician returns to his native village in Central Asia and is gradually unmasked as a flaneur in “Let’s Not Cry!”, a well observed, cleanly shot black comedy that unfortunately doesn’t have a second or third act. First solo outing by South Korean director Min Boung-hun, who previously lensed and co-directed the Tajikistan-set “Flight of the Bee” with local helmer Jamshed Usmonov, is likely to have a small career on the fest circuit and some highly specialized TV sales on the strength of its exotic locations.
Pic has much of the same fable-like feel, rooted in the realities of contempo life in an ex-Soviet republic, as “Bee.” However, Min’s color lensing of the quietly spectacular landscape, bordered by snow-capped mountains, gives the movie a lyrical quality that his B&W photography in “Bee” could not approach. Pic is also, thankfully, free of the nods to Satyajit Ray that ran through the first film.
More interestingly, both Min and Usmonov have opted for similar tales in their solo, sophomore features. In “Cry!” a young gambler returns from Moscow to Uzbekistan to live in his aged mother’s home and finds himself barracked by locals to whom he owes money. In Usmonov’s “Angel on the Right” (which played in this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard), a smalltime thug returns from Moscow to Tajikistan to see his dying mother, only to find he’s been lured into a trap by locals to whom he owes money.
Min’s basic idea is a clever, if hardly original, one and offers plenty of opportunities for a gentle comedy of manners as Muhammad (Muhammad Rahimo), clutching his precious violin case, arrives by local bus and truck in the small, remote village where he grew up in. He’s reputed to be a violin virtuoso with a glittering career in the Moscow Philharmonic, but when his mother suggests he help teach village children during his stopover he seems reluctant to take the instrument out of its case.
As the film settles into the laid-back rhythms of village life, Muhammad reacquaints himself but generally finds a hostile or suspicious reception. In a neatly played roadside conversation, a local businessman who’s building a vodka factory quickly exposes Muhammad as a flaneur, and the latter ends up cadging more favors as his lack of success becomes clear.
Min decorates this basic story with a touching subplot of a shy girl who takes a fancy to Mohammad (leaving a fresh egg by his bedroom window each morning), plus a more fanciful side story about Muhammad’s grandfather, who lives alone in the hills obsessively quarrying for gold in the rugged landscape. But like the main thread, neither of these is ever properly developed beyond their exposition: The whole picture ends up feeling like a pencil sketch with the colors waiting to be filled in.
Performances, however, are excellent across the board, with Rahimo underplaying his shyster role, and the rest of the cast showing a nice feel for oblique Asian conversations in which the subject at hand is never directly broached. It’s curious that, though as a dialogue writer Min shows a sure and sensitive hand, as a script writer he seems uninterested in architecture or development.
All credits on print caught were in Uzbek script and the original title given above is the Uzbek one. For the record, pic’s Korean title is “Gwaenchanha, uljima.”