SPECIAL:

Central Asia

©GULNARA ABIKEEVA

REVIEW

Little Angel, Make Me Happy

A social drama. The period of the Second World War in Turkmenia. In Central Asia the deportation program of the Soviet citizens of German origin begins. All adults are taken to camps in Siberia and children are put in orphanages. The six-year old Georg hides from the Red soldiers and finds himself left almost alone in his, now abandoned, German village. The horrifying reality sets in. The daily routine of his life is shocking: What to eat? How to take care of his sick friend Yashka? How to bury Aunt Lisa? Under these inhuman circumstances, the soul of Georg remains miraculously uncorrupted – he still believes in Little Angel from a children’s song, and he makes a nest for it in a tree. A miracle takes place: sometimes a glass of milk is left for Georg in the nest; sometimes an ear of corn…

A German children’s song sounds strange at the beginning of a Turkmen film. The opening scene doesn’t seem less a paradox than the sound track: European children run in a poppy field and observe a desert dweller – a turtle. This is the end of the children’s paradise. When they come back to their village, they find their frightened parents, the Red Army soldiers and a few wagons. The deportation of Germans is declared. They will be taken from this village to Siberia. The title of the file appears like a prayer: "Little Angel, Make Me Happy." It is the first film during the Soviet and post-Soviet period in which Germans are portrayed sympathetically. For the first time, the ideological division "Good or Bad" gains a new side – "depends on the person."

The ideological stereotypes of the Soviet period never considered an individuality of a member of a group. The Russian Bolsheviks were always the good guys; the German Fascists were always the bad guys; and all other ethnics –Turkmen, Kazakhs, Moldavians, etc. – had to always try to become like their "older Russian brothers." Usman Saparov draws the ethical line not between the ethnic groups but between the individual qualities of people. In the film, only a river divides people: on a one side quiet Turkmen live, across the river there is a German village, in which Russians move in after the German deportation. During hardship and dangers, the little Georg runs either to the German side of the river – to Mama Berta, an old disabled lady, and Aunt Lisa with the nine year old Amalia and a newborn baby, and a few kids, who were able to hide from the Russian soldiers – or to the Turkmen side – to the boy Orazka and Grandpa Nepes-Aga. Georg doesn’t fully comprehend death and is happy to come to Turkmen traditional post-funeral dinners, where the little hungry boy can eat sometimes. Aid comes only from the Turkmen side of the river; on the German side there are only arrests, the soldiers’ indifference or rage.

Aunt Lisa feeds three children with her breast milk– the two of her own and the little Georg because there is nothing else to eat in the German village. On top of it Georg’s friend Yashka comes to the village in the winter. He has run away from an orphanage and comes to his home village sick, skinny, covered with sores and the empty worn out eyes of an old man. Soon Yashka dies and Turkmen come to wash his body and bury it with the full respect due to a neighbor. Some Turkmen are not such great neighbors. A Turkmen functionary accuses Grandpa Nepes-Aga of burying Yashka, an "enemy of people," with full respect and reports him to the Russian soldiers. Grandpa Nepes-Aga gets arrested the next morning. The events develop with a horrifying speed. Aunt Lisa dies. And now the children wrap her body in a sheet and drag it towards the cemetery to bury. A mailman sees this horrendous scene, turns around his bicycle and flees from it, like from the plague. At this point disabled Mama Berta stands up – it is hard to tell whether she is a real person or a metaphor for the German spirit.

The film director shows the world turned upside down. It is unheard of that children bury grownups! Under the threat of arrest, Turkmen men send the children off and bury Aunt Lisa by themselves.

The story told by Usman Saparov touches one of the most complex problems – What is Motherland? "What is Turkmenia to a German and what is a German to Turkmenia?" "German man" is "nemetz" in the Russian language. The word "nemetz" originated as a "foreigner," a "person who doesn’t speak the Russian language," – a "mute person." The little German boy represents a "Non-Asian" living in Asia, but for whom Central Asia is a true "non-historical" motherland.

Central Asia has always been a melting pot of various ethnic groups. Some ethnicities came to be extinct; some were newly formed. For centuries different tribes and ethnic groups lived as good neighbors, mutually enriching each other. This film by Usman Saparov brilliantly demonstrates a contact of representatives of two very different ethnic groups, cultures and worldviews. He demonstrates all these aspects as completely compatible and mutually beneficial, and he emphasizes that only politics sets people apart.

If I had to choose the top ten films of all people and times, Little Angel, Make Me Happy by Usman Saparov would be definitely on this list. The film reaches the viewer on several levels: narrative storytelling, social message, historical fact, cultural observation, and, finally, profound emotional revelation. This is why the picture received Grand Prizes at six international film festivals, and many other awards. What makes me wonder is that Usman Saparov, a film director of such talent, was forced to emigrate from his homeland Turkmenia. Now, in Russia, he works as a television director of children’s programs.

Little Angel, Make Me Happy

Turkmenistan/Russia, 1992, 88 minutes, color

Director: Usman Saparov

Screenwriters: Lyudmila Papilova and Usman Saparov

Cinematographer: Vladimir Shinkin

Music by: Dmitri Ribnikov

Cast: Vova Frank, Tanya Shraiber, Agamurad Janmuhamedov, Lidia Brestel, Ata Davletov

 

Production and Copyright of NISA

Awards and Participation in Film Festivals:

Grand Prize of the Children’s Program at the Berlin Film Festival, 1993

Grand Prize at the Kinotaver Film Festival, Sochi, 1994

Grand-Prize at the Sozvezdie Film Festival, 1993

Screening at the Isfahan Film Festival in 1993, the Chicago Film Festival in 1993, the Widepure Film Festival in 1993, and the Tel-Aviv Film Festival in 1993.


Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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