The 1970s. A few days in the life of a teenager named Maimil (Monkey), beginning with an army medical commission to the day he gets drafted. On one hand his life is filled with childhood’s romantic feelings: the first kiss, tumbling with boys and dancing in a disco. On the other hand, he has to work to support his family, calm down his drunken father and takes care of his little sister. The world of grownups pulls him in its cycle like a whirlpool.
Maimil is the last part of the trilogy by Aktan Abdikalikov – Selkinchek, Beshkempir and Maimil. After creating the trilogy, the film director took a new name – Aktan Arim Kybat. The first part of the trilogy is about a child’s self-perception in the world. The second part is about the significance of a mother figure in one’s life and learning to love one’s motherland. The third part is about the significance of a father figure in one’s life and discovering one’s self through it. The three films, shot during nine years, comprise a touching coming-of-age story.
The idea of the film consists of a few layers. Alexander Korotenko noticed: Maimil should not be viewed through its story lines, as is commonly done with films. It has to be seen as a field, in which one can enter from any side." The film could begin with the scene of the parents, or the disco dancing, or the protagonist’s work on the railroads -- or as it starts -- from the scene at the army draft board. The sequence of the scenes doesn’t change the meaning of the story.
Aktan Abdikalikov’s brilliantly demonstrates his short-story-telling talent in this film. Every scene is a mini-film. But it is not an action mini-film but a film-observation, in which every scene is an additional color to the main story.
There are two cinematic spaces in the film: one is the light, airy and romantic world of teenagers; the other one is the heavy, earthy, always drunk and in the smoke of cigarettes world of grownups. The top and the bottom: young people meet each other on bridges over the railroads; the grownups exist below – the rails, a house, a store…The teenagers kiss with their eyes closed, dance in a disco, sit on benches and play guitars. The grownups’ showdowns consist of drunken violence, arguments between spouses and sex with Zinka the prostitute. The two universes never cross.
In Beshkempir, teenagers ride their girls on bicycles. They remove the back seats from their bicycles, so the girls have to sit in front of them. In Maimil, a motorcycle appears, and it doesn’t represent courtship, but the rough reality of the grownups’ life.
At the beginning of the film his mother wakes up the sleeping Maimil to go and find the motorcycle lost by his drunken father. Then Maimil’s coworkers talk him into giving a ride home to Zinka the prostitute. Zinka the prostitute starts to sexually excite the boy right on the motorcycle. He feels embarrassed and ashamed of the wet spot on his pants.
Maimil is the only character that can live in both worlds: the grownups’ and the teenagers’. During the day, he and the other boys peep under girls’ skirts with a little mirror, and at night he defends his mother from his drunken father and takes care of his little sister Zhuldiz. When his mother decides to leave his father, Maimil makes his choice and stays with his father to take care of him.
Aktan Abdikalikov uses a mirror as method of concentrating the viewer’s attention. In Beshkempir he did it with color. In Maimil he does it with a little mirror. It is just a simple little mirror lying on a window frame. First the protagonist is looking in it and making faces. The title "Maimil" means "Monkey" in Kyrgyz. In a later scene we see the mirror’s reflection of the first fight of his family, when his father raises his hand to his mother. With the mirror, Maimil and his friends peep under girls’ skirts. When the handicapped Katya, the railroad inspector, looks in the mirror we don’t see her disability at all.
The mirror represents the subjective view of Maimil. Also, it’s a stylistic tool allowing the film director to minimize the cinematic space. This artistic choice, I think, communicates one of the psychological qualities of an individual. When something overwhelming or stressful takes place we tend not to remember the general picture. We see and hear the concentrated details – eye wide open; loud voice; swinging hand; sound of broken glass; etc. This is why there are not long shots in the scene of the parents’ fight but only close-ups of the details reflected in the mirror.
One can say that the meaning of the mirror is inner research of the protagonist, but it is rather his view of the world outside of himself.
In Selkinchek the concept of childhood is represented with textures of earth and an aul: lime on the trees and walls of the houses; pieces of charcoal, with which a little boy draws. In Beshkempir the world becomes warmer, cozier. It conveyed through "kurak" rugs, the granny’s yarn and jewelry, natural wood in the window-frame; soft patchwork blankets drying in the sun.
In Maimil the texture changes again. At the beginning of the film, the credits run on a cement wall covered with graffiti. This is the world of metal (railroad, train, motorcycle, etc.) and industrial toughness; this is why the theme of Maimil being drafted in the army interweaves organically.
About colors. Even during pre-production, Aktan said that after he worked with black-and-white film, it was hard for him to find the right approach to color film.
When Aktan was working in his black-and-white style, his addition of a colorful detail was based on a concept of emotional emphasis on something important. Now, when he started to work with full color film, he had to invent a new concept. And he did.
Colors represented the world of women. For example: Maimil’s mother folding colorful blankets; Maimil draws a red rose for his little sister; Katya the railroad inspector waters red flowers – all these scenes are filled with intense and warm colors.
The world of men is reserved and cold: a gray-blue color of the cement pipe, where the boys meet; a gray-yellow color in the sunburned steppe, where the railroad construction workers work; the drunken scenes look dark blue; silver blue predominates, when Maimil lies on the bridge, dreaming and looking at the tops of poplars.
This color and texture division is brilliantly demonstrated in the scene of Maimil confronting his father: the father and son sit on a bare metal bed in a cold blue room, and nearby the traces of the departed mother and sister – lonely, folded, colorful blankets.
In his previous films, Aktan was working with Kyrgyz archetypes and symbols of Kyrgyz culture. In this film, the film director steps further, to universal themes. He works with the original elements of nature – fire, water, earth, wood and metal.
We discussed the element of metal in the scenes with the father. In all family scenes the element of wood is present: at the middle of their backyard there is a lonely tree – the symbol of home. The element of earth is in the endless steppe, the habitat, geography, and motherland. Water – the deep river as the symbol of immersion in grownup life. Finally, fire – Zinka the prostitute’s house is on fire – destructive, fatal passion. And metal again – the train taking Maimil to the army.
The field is created, the characters are defined, but everything comes to motion only after the original elements are ignited. Just like in life.
Kyrgyzstan, France, Japan, 90 minutes, color
Director: Aktan Abdikalikov
Screenwriter: Aktan Abdikalikov, Avtandil Adikulov, Tonino Guerra
Cinematographer: Khasan Kadiraliyev
Music by: Alexander Yurtayev
Producers: Chedomir Collar, Frederick Dumas, Mark Bosse, Yui Sadai
Cast: Mirlan Abdikalikov, Zhilkichi Zhakipov, Ainagul Esenkozhaeva, Kanikey Shermatova
Production of Noe Producsion (France), Beshkempir (Kyrgyzstan), Bitters End (Japan)
Awards and Participation in Film Festivals:
Screening in the Special View Program at the Cannes Film Festival, 2001
The Trieste Film Festival, 2003
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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