A key figure in the Kazakh new wave of the past decade, Darejan Omirbaev established a reputation on the festival circuit with his Bressonian dramas “Cardiogram” and “Killer,” depicting the economic, societal and moral breakdown of the post-Soviet republic. His fourth feature is a less accessible but nonetheless commanding dream film that trains the same intense gaze on the creative stasis of a filmmaker as he puzzles over the present and seeks a better understanding of the past. A demanding work that invites multiple interpretations, “The Road” looks to travel the margins of the fest map.
Photographing the stagnant reality of his country from a sober, documentary-style remove but at the same time departing from that reality via numerous poetic detours, Omirbaev’s drama has a cumulative impact even though it often seems to lack cohesiveness and structure.
This unorthodox approach to narrative accounts to some degree for the failure of even the most accomplished Central Asian directors to penetrate Western arthouse markets in the way that, say, Iranian filmmakers have done, despite their work exhibiting a comparable kind of simplicity and similarly beautiful craftsmanship on limited means.
Central figure is a respected, fictional Kazakh director named Amir Kobessov (played by Djamshed Usmonov, a filmmaker himself from neighboring Tadjikistan and co-director of 1998 festival prize winner “The Flight of the Bee”).
Taking an amusingly self-critical swipe at himself, Omirbaev torments his main character with a nightmare in which he appears before a solemn audience at the premiere of his new film. Presented as a one-man masterpiece factory, Amir delivers a pompous introduction but the distracted projectionist cranks up a martial arts actioner by mistake. The audience responds enthusiastically, insisting on seeing the whole film.
Meanwhile, Amir’s marriage is going through a difficult patch. When a telegram arrives with news that Amir’s mother is seriously ill, he sets out by car for his native village. Amir’s long journey is punctuated by overlapping, not easily distinguishable digressions into past, present, dreams and imagination.
Filled with arresting images and fluidly edited with a mix of static shots and short, unintrusive observational scenes, the film oscillates between various states of reality and fantasy, as Amir constructs a film within his mind. The enigmatic structure is often frustrating, making it less involving than Omirbaev’s more story-driven “Killer.”
But challenging and ambiguous as it is, “The Road” remains an interesting, highly personal reflection on a filmmaker struggling to reach an audience while remaining true to his own voice.