Engaging ensemble comedy-drama “Saratan” is a microcosm of Kyrgyz society with its portrait of a mountain village struggling to make ends meet. First feature by docs-and-shorts helmer Ernest Abdyshaparov goes easy on the allegory and lets its smartly penned characters carry the load. Easily digestible naturalism and anthropological interest should help “Saratan” add exotic spice to fest programs, but pic may be too unassuming to woo pick-ups from theatrical distribs outside Central Asia.
Mayor Kabylbek (Kumondor Abylov) tries his best to keep peace in a town where pensions don’t arrive, food is short but vodka’s all-too plentiful, and a local Communist (Shambyl Kamchiev) rantingly denounces the new post-Soviet regime at every public meeting. Policeman Salamat (Askat Sulaimanov), who’s having an affair with a married woman, is on the trail of a sheep thief (Tabyldy Aktanov) whose eventual capture restores stability. Meanwhile, Islam and a local breed of shamanism vie for the villagers’ religious loyalties. Helmer Abdyshaparov demonstrates a knack for slapstick set pieces and coaxes hearty perfs from non-pro thesps. Lensing, in unusual Academy ratio, uses majestic landscape for impressive natural backdrops. Tech package is good, given the low budget.