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The Old Man and the Steppe

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The new film called “The Old Man” (originally titled “Shal”) done by a Kazakh producer and screenwriter Ermek Tursunov has been released. This is his second film.

His scandalous first film “Kelin” (The Daughter-in-Law) caused such a difference of opinions, primarily negative, that I thought Borat saga was continuing. Critics were indignant by saying that it diminishes Kazakhs. All these verbal battles left such a bad taste that I had no desire whatsoever to watch it. 
His second film - “The Old Man” on the contrary, was highly appraised and became a main topic of discussions now in Kazakhstan. But I watched his second film “The Old Man” quite by chance.
Frankly speaking, I came to the cinema theater full of pessimism and not expecting to see anything worthwhile. I lost my hopes since the times of great Khodzhikov (Kazakh film director in ‘70s) that in Kazakhstan we can make films, leave alone the good ones.
The film “Shal” captured me right from the first frames.
Done on a high professional level, it was holding me in absolute tension, literally, every minute and every second – and this lasted till the end of the film, during the whole session. I left the cinema hall absolutely blown away!
I noticed that other spectators also had tears in their eyes and they were not hiding them.
I thought to myself that it’s been a while since I watched such a good film – a real film!
I can confidently say that on the starless celestial dome of Kazakh cinematography at last the bright star has risen. It is Ermek Tursunov and particularly, his film “Shal”.
The producer says that his film is the transferal of the events taken from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea” into the Kazakh steppe.
The old man who lived all his life in the sea in Tursunov’s film is replaced by the old shepherd called Kasym who is herding a dozen of sheep, trying to escape from the wolves. The wolves are instead of sharks. The steppe is instead of the sea.
The plot of the story is thin, just like Hemingway’s’ plot. But the main idea here is not the plot line, but the essence and values that this film is literally “stuffed” with.
One of the main ideas of the film is that a man and nature are one harmonious balance and breaking this harmony will lead to lethal end, as it happened to the hunters, so called “masters of life”, who were driving Hammer and had super modern navigational systems to hunt for wolves, ignoring the advises of the old man that it was dangerous, since the wolves just had their cubs.  But the hunters didn’t listen and nature took revenge for such action and it will take her revenge until we understand that we and nature is one organic integer.
Another idea is that every living creature fights for their progeny and that is the law of life.
The producer found a successful solution when he shows close-up faces that personify certain phenomena. The face of the old man signifies the face of our fathers, the generation that underwent many hardships, but managed to keep a strong human spirit. The faces of hunters are the faces of people who are in the chase of lucre stopped to be people and turned into “wolves”.
The face of the grandson is the face of our young generation that is seeking the sense of life.
The “face” of the female wolf is the face of Mother Nature who is harsh, but generous at the same time. 
In one instance the face of the old man even reminds the face of the wolf, when they confront each other and visa versa, the face of the female wolf looks forgiving and noble. 
The repulsive face of the rescue operations office is the face of our system. And it’s not the system that in the end rescues the old man, but his grandson.
Doubtless mastership of the producer is that he managed to make the main characters of the film not only people, but also the animals: sheep, a horse called Orlik, wolves. Even the fog is the live and fully legitimate character in the film!
In the final scenes the female wolf “forgives” the old man for evil doings of his compatriots and let him go. The grandson and old man go away in one direction and the wolf with her cub - in another.
The harmony in nature restored.
The main actor - 63-year-old Erbolat Toguzakov is not a professional actor. They say he is a laborer in KazakhFilm Studio, who was given a few episodic roles in various films. He laughs that he needed to wait for his retirement age to get such a role! But his acting is amazing!  
And there is a lot of humour in this film, a Kazakh humour that makes it even more interesting.
Frequent laughs of the spectators breaking the silence of the film session in the theatre, the laughter through the tears once more prove that this is the people’s film, made about the people and for the people, which with equal interest and a sinking heart will be watched and understood by the American, British, Italian, Turkish or Hindu.
This is a national film about sub-national values of our mankind!  Watch it; I hope you will enjoy it.
By Zeena Urynbassarova
November 22 2012, 19:26

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