The childhood of a boy named Beshkempir is sunny and carefree until, in a fight with his friend, he finds out that he was adopted. Now he understands why his mother was so cold with him and his father was so distant. He is still crushed by this discovery when he finds out horrible news – his only truly close person, his grandmother, has passed away.
A colorful long shot glides over a tekemet (A Kyrgyz rug). It cuts to a shot of five old women (besh kempir), who are passing an infant from one to another. They murmur: "This is not my son, this is not my son, but may his path in life be full of joy!" They wrap a cloth around his bottom and put him in a besik (a cradle). Also, they put a tostagan (a wooden bowl for food) and asiks (typical boys’ game of the dice made out of the knee bones of a lamb) in the cradle. They cover the cradle with a blanket. The ritual of "Biseke salu" (placing a baby in a cradle) is completed.
During the film it is revealed that the infant was adopted and the old women performed the ceremony of adoption not only by a specific family but also by their whole community.
It is interesting that a bed for an infant and a carryout cot for the dead are both called "besik" in the Kazakh and Kyrgyz languages. It is the first and the last cradle for a person.
In the same way, the opening scene of Beshkempir, when the protagonist is placed in his cradle, resembles in the end of the film, when his deceased grandmother is placed in her last cradle. In this ritual, the boy stands next to the deceased and publicly settles all her matters with people and Allah. This is the traditional way; this is the cycle of life. And between these two moments, a human life unfolds. According to Aktan Abdikalikov, life is full of energy and sunshine, smells and sensations, discoveries and wonders.
Beshkempir grows to be thirteen or fourteen. It is late spring. Men trim tree branches. An old lady makes clay bricks. Apple trees are in blossom. Standing next t o the clay bricks, village boys cover themselves with clay. The clean looking Beshkempir approaches them. Somebody throws mud at him. He laughs and covers himself with mud like the rest. This silly game has a purpose. The boys try to fetch honey from wild bees. It doesn’t work out and, chased by the upset bees, they jump into a hole filled with water.
In the next scene the boys sculpt a naked woman out of sand, diligently forming her breasts and genitals. They pretend that they make love to her.
In these childish games they rehearse grownup life. One day the sand woman will turn into a real one and a clay boy will be buried in soil. Every scene of Aktan Abdikalikov’s film carries in itself a model of human existence.
Let us take a closer look at the people living in the universe of Beshkempir. First of all, are the five old ladies – besh kempir. The get together to perform the most important rituals of their village: initiation of life or death. They look like the heads of their tribes and stand like symbols of the origin of life. Note that there is not a single old man in the village. The next generation is the five mothers of the boys. They get together to press felt carpets – kigiz, or any other work that is too hard for one person. They work hard together and chat about their home problems. They don’t yet have the grace of the old women but it is obvious that when the time will come they will replace them. There are men of their generation. It is Beshkempir’s stepfather; he looks neurotic, upset and unreliable. All men function in autonomy: somebody fishes, somebody builds a house, and somebody drinks vodka in his backyard. In the third generation of Beshkempir and his friends, we see the equal amount of boys and girls – five boys and five girls. Sometimes they play together; sometimes separate; sometimes they form pairs and the boys ride the girls on their bicycles.
The world straightens out; it moves towards the harmony. The little boys will take the places of men killed during the Second World War (the film is set in the 1960). Meanwhile this universe rests on the palms of women – one of them is Beshkempir’s grandmother.
Aktan Abdikalikov puts color accents on every detail that has to do with the grandmother: a lucky charm that she puts on Beshkempir’s neck; a colorful kerchief, where she secretly hides money so Beshkempir can go to the movies; and at the end of the film her possessions: colorful yarn and silver jewelry. These are signs of love and affection that he will carry for the rest of his life.
It is not only a nostalgic story about our carefree childhood but also about how we mature one day and never go back. This is a film about the feeling when we lose the ground under our feet; the sun darkens; the world turns upside down; and a knot ties in our throat – when a person we love dies. At this moment men gather together – relatives and strangers – because according to Turkic tradition, only men can bury the body. Before they bury the body, an appointed relative has to settle all the earthly matters. Any lender to the deceased should identify himself now for this relative will be responsible for these debts from now on. And if anybody is in debt to the deceased, it is forgiven from now on. Before her death, the grandmother before had asked that Beshkempir, her adopted grandson, perform this ritual. By performing this duty, Beshkempir closes the chapter of his childhood, and now it doesn’t matter if he is an adopted child because his grownup life is waiting for him.
This is a story of a mother figure in one’s life and separation from her. This is a story about understanding that when one’s mother figure leaves, the only thing left is one’s motherland – a spiritual mother, to whom one still has a chance to fulfill his duty.
Kyrgyzstan-France, 1998, 120 minutes,
Black-and-white and color
Director: Aktan Abdikalikov
Script by: Aktan Abdikalikov, Avtandil Adikulov and Marat Saruuli
Cinematographer: Khasan Kadirkaliyev
Production Designer: Emil Tilekov
Cast: M. Abdikalikov, A. Imasheva, A. Abdikasimov, B. Dzhilkichiyev
Producers: Chedomir Kolar and Irizbay Alibayev
Prizes and Participations in Film Festivals
The Silver Leopard Prize at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, 1998
The Don Quixote Prize at the International Association of Cinema Clubs
The Grand Prize at the Eurasia Film Festival in Kazakhstan, 1998
The Viewer’s Choice Award and the Jury’s Choice Award at the Vienna Film Festival in Austria, 1998
The Asian Films Jury Award at the Tokyo Film Festival in Japan, 1999
The Grand Prize and the Students Choice Award at the Kottobus in Germany, 1999
The Prize of the Swiss Cinema Laboratory for Technical Excellence, 1999
The Viewer’s Choice Award and the Prize of the French Producers’ Association at the Anjou Film Festival in France, 1999
The Jury Award for Artistic Contribution at the Buenos Aires Film Festival in Argentina, 1999
The Silver Film Can Award and the FIPRESSI Award at the Singapore Film Festival, 1999
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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