Documentarian Elchin Musaoglu’s sophomore narrative feature, “Nabat,” Azerbaijan’s Oscar submission, is an exquisitely shot minimalist tale of an elderly woman who finds herself the last remaining resident in a village evacuated during the regional warfare of two decades ago. With little in the way of commercial prospects, the film’s poetic strengths should nonetheless continue to find favor on the fest circuit and among buyers for more rarified home-format platforms.
Known to all as “Auntie,” Nabat (Fatemeh Motamed Arya) makes her laborious way on foot every day along rugged mountain roads, delivering milk in heavy jars from her beloved lone cow. Sans car or electricity, she and her bedridden husband, Iskender (Vidadi Aliyev), a former gamekeeper, scrape out a subsistence scarcely different from that of their ancestors 100 or 200 years ago. Their only child recently died a soldier’s death and is buried on a nearby hillside. As audible armed conflict grows ever nearer, locals are fleeing. But Iskender can scarcely move a muscle, let alone survive being transported to hopeful safety.
When Nabat makes her rounds as usual the next day, she finds the nearest village now entirely abandoned, some buildings bombed or showing signs of forced entry. There’s naught to do but hunker down with the spouse with whom she still affectionately banters on their remote farmstead. (Recalling their courtship, he jokes, “I kidnapped you well,” to which she retorts, “Ah, you don’t know who kidnapped who.”) Soon even this company is denied her, leaving Nabat with no fellow creature save a howling, elusive wolf to acknowledge her grieving isolation.
Bleak and largely wordless as this tale is, there’s a certain quiet grandeur to its unfolding. Veteran Iranian thesp Arya underplays effectively, limning a simple woman’s considerable inner strength shaped by a life of endless toil. The pale, somber colors and elegant crane shots of Abdulrahim Besharat’s lensing make Nabat inextricably part of a pitiless yet beautiful landscape. Hamed Sabet’s plaintive string score is only occasional present (eventually joined by some J.S. Bach), capping an assembly as handsome as it is spare.