Review: ‘Saratan’

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.

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.

Saratan

Germany-Kyrgyzstan

Production

An Icon Film, Viet Filmproduction (Germany), Kyrgyzfilm Studio (Kyrgyzstan) production, with support of Filmstiftung NRW, World Cinema Fund. (International sales: MDC Intl., Berlin.) Produced by Tynai Ibragimov, Kanat Sartov, Herbert Schwering, Hans-Erich Viet. Directed, written by Ernest Abdyshaparov.

Crew

Camera (color), Yorzsh Hamitski; editor, Saida Sadykova; music, Abdyshaparov; production designer, Sharip Yailobaiev; costume designer, Daigar Ibramov. Kirgiz dialogue. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 15, 2005. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Kumondor Abylov, Askat Sulaimanov, Tabyldy Aktanov, Kanybek Bekbatyrov, Taalaikan Abrazova, Shambyl Kamchiev.
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