Bo Ba Bu
A film- parable. A father and son are shepherds and live alone in remote pastures when they find a white woman lost in the desert. How did she wind up there? Maybe because of an airplane crash. The father and son take care of her. They nourish and cherish her at first. Then the father and son compete for her attention, and argue and fight with each other. They cover her face with a paranja (the traditional veil), exchange her for a livestock, get her back, send her to a whorehouse and, finally, kill her.
The opening shot is enchanting – a face in a mask made out of raw canvas, with two slits for the eyes, and the sound of a supersonic jet somewhere in the skies. It is hard to tell whether it is a prehistoric time or the future after an apocalypse. The location is defined by the caption "11, 000 kilometers from New York." According to a map, this destination would be the desert between Europe and China. The beginning evokes many film associations from Lawrence of Arabia to The English Patient. However, the territory can be defined geopolitically: we call it our motherland – Central Asia, but Americans named it the axis of evil.
The man in the mask is not a space alien and not a highwayman, but only the desert dweller Bo. He lives with either his brother or son (we see a younger male) named Bu. They find a white woman in the desert and name her Ba. During the film selection process for the Eurasian Film Festival in 1998 in Almaty, the committee was offended by this picture by Ali Khamrayev because Central Asia was presented as a savage place: the characters live among their sheep and, instead of a human language, they murmur and howl – bo, ba, bu… Also, the film director was accused of being pressured by his Italian producer to include too many erotic scenes for the sake of a commercial exotic "sugar pill." In my opinion, all of these accusations were based on a misunderstanding of the film director’s concept. Ali Khamrayev created the film, amazingly interweaving fantasy and reality, erotic feelings and routine life, the West and the East.
The concept is truly superb: to create an artistic metaphor for the post-Soviet Central Asia. The multinational cast is not accidental – the older man is preformed by the Uigur actor Abdrashid Abdrakhmanov, the younger brother is the Uzbek actor Javahid Zakirov, the military officer is the Kazakh actor Dimash Akhimov. The story takes place in a desert and the characters exist without specific ethnic identities. They even don’t speak any known language. When Father Bo is invited to a festivity in a city, the celebration looks like a Turkmen one – old men in the traditional fur hats sit around their khan and his wife. The city resembles Khiva. On one hand there are specific characteristics of a Central Asian ethnicity, on the other hand all these characteristics are mixed for an eclectic image of the region.
Another important element is the mixture of time periods. The film director shows a medieval lifestyle with the modern objects of air jets, SUVs and drugs.
This contrast seems even keener because of the presence of the European woman appearing out of nowhere. It seems that she wound up there because of an airplane crash; broken parts of an airplane seat were lying not far from the place where she was found. This western woman’s face and figure look like a Barbie Doll’s. It is very symbolic – a woman doll. The European actress Arielle Dombasle plays the female character. There is not a hint of the situation being realistic, but there are all elements of a game: two men and a woman, who literally fell from the skies. The situation unfolds in full. The men either make love to her until their knees bleed, or throw her into the feeder for the sheep, or dress her in golden clothes, or lock her up in the barn. Finally, her death is the symbol – the men get rid of something foreign – same way Asia rejects elements of the Western civilization.
Most likely the country described in the film is Turkmenia because during the last ten years it has totally regressed to a feudal stage. The celebration scene shows an old rich mansion in the desert. Its realistic details resemble a Turkmen dwelling. The house is not on the Kazakh steppe, and not in the Kyrgyz or Tadzhik mountains. The people in the house are shepherds, not farmers, like in Uzbekistan.
Turkmenia is the most extreme example of a totalitarian system in Central Asia. The next country is Uzbekistan. Therefore, the Uzbek film Bo Ba Bu serves as a warning, a somewhat exaggerated, hyperbolized image of what the result of the process of archaisation of the mentality can be; it is characteristic of the entire region of Central Asia today. Besides, this film is about how the current Western-oriented Central Asia of the former Soviet Union is gradually transforming into a totally Eastern region, distancing itself further and further from European influence. Frederic Jameson said: "An artistic discourse cannot not reflect a new geopolitical situation."
The film Bo Ba Bu was ahead of its time, much earlier than the audience was ready to see it. It most likely will never be released in Uzbekistan or any other Central Asian country. However, this is one of the first motion pictures in which the very deep socio-political and cultural problems of our region were brought out into the open.
Bo Ba Bu
Uzbekistan/Italy, 1998, 96 minutes, color
Director: Ali Khamrayev
Screenwriters: Mauro San-George and Ali Khamrayev
Cinematographer: Manleo Robetti
Production Designer: Marco Grillo
Music by: Cloud Samarda
Cast: Arielle Dombasle, Abdrashid Abdrakhmanov, Javahid Zakirov.
Awards and Participations in Film Festivals
Award of the Press and Film Critics Board at the Kinoshok Film Festival in Anapa, 2000
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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