Striking lensing of the Kirghiz steppes reps the only plus in “Jamila,” a flat translation of a 1956 story by w.k. fabulist Chingiz Aitmatov about young love in the Soviet grasslands. Presence of F. Murray Abraham, “Indochine” newcomer Linh Dan Pham as the title character and Jason Connery doesn’t elevate the material much above ground level. Small-screen European sales loom brightest.
Pic is framed as a reminiscence by N.Y.-based painter Seit (Abraham) of his first, unconsummated love affair as a youth in the Kirghiz hinterland during the mid-1940s. Journeying back to his homeland, Seit recalls in v.o. his adoration of the beautiful Jamila (Linh), who can give the men in the village a run for their money on horseback but who’s parceled off to his brutish elder brother in an arranged marriage.
When the brother gets sent off to the war, the young Seit (Nikolai Kinski) is deputized as Jamila’s protector. Enter handsome, wounded soldier Daniyar (Connery), bringing true love and some brave-faced but bruising disappointment for Seit. Coda has the older Seit arriving in the village to find Jamila’s a grandmother, but pulling back from meeting her.
On few occasions does the movie attain the ingenuous, fablelike tale of puppy love that the material suggests. Though Manos Mussaev’s camera and Eugen Doga’s rhapsodic music do their best, pic is floored by a so-so script, lack of narrative thrust and pretty but gauche perfs by both Linh and Kinski as the youngsters.
Connery makes the best of an underwritten part, and Abraham, more heard than seen, is solid at best. German director Monica Teuber’s helming is technically competent but uninspired.