Minimalist, sensitive but uninvolving, “Cardiogram” is a whisper of a film whose subtlety will be heard in only a few specialized fests and children’s events before it dies away. It is far too sober to have much appeal for youngsters, however. Directed by Darezhan Omirbaev (who won a Silver Leopard at Locarno for his feature bow, “Kairat”), this Kazakh entry looked dwarfed in competition at Venice, where it passed for a dignified but minor work.
Zhasulan (Ahasulan Asauov), a 12-year-old boy from the lonely steppes, is sent to a mountain children’s clinic to be treated for a heart problem. There he encounters the outside world for the first time — boys his own age, girls in the first bloom of sexuality, cruelty and desire. Zhasulan develops a crush on a young nurse who is kind to him, and skulks around the clinic spying on her, preferably through a peephole in the women’s shower. He discovers she is going out with a doctor. One day he runs away by hiding in a truck delivering movies to clinics.
Omirbaev puts precious little flesh on the bare bones of Zhasulan’s story, which unfolds in the clinic’s sterile confines. The nonpro child actors seem deliberately chosen to undercut what little drama there is, their blank, expressionless faces making it necessary to guess what they are thinking and feeling, thereby limiting audience involvement.
Soundtrack is carefully stripped down to a few significant sounds, but in general, silence predominates, because Zhasulan, who can’t speak Russian, is excluded from the city boys’ conversations.
Boris Troshev’s square, B&W images carry out Omirbaev’s minimalist intent on a visual level, being as simple and shadowless as possible.