A historical drama. The meetings and marches of the Red Revolution change the life of the poor Iskander. Because he knows Russian, he becomes an interpreter for the new government at first, and then an active orator popularizing the new regime. His fame and popularity grow and he enjoys being in the spotlight. Later, he understands that the new system entered his home and changed his personal life as well. He has three wives, harmoniously co-existing in his home, and now he finds a fourth -- Mariam Fazilovna, head of the Revolutionary Committee. The epic story ends with the birth of Mariam and Iskander’s son, the death of Mariam in a jail and Iskander’s renunciation of his wives and son. The story takes place during the 1930s, the period of khudzhum – the Bolshevik’s forced liberation of Central Asian women and the symbolical burnings of their traditional veils.
Before The Orator, the film by Yusup Razikov, was released, I didn’t comprehend that I considered the establishment of the Soviet Power in Central Asia as an interesting and sometimes spooky fairytale told by my grandmother in my childhood. The Soviet films of 1920s presented the same period of history very seriously. Only after viewing The Orator by Yusup Razikov, did I come to the conclusion that this is exactly how it was – fairytale-like and unreal. Yusup Razikov demonstrated that in cinema some stereotypes replace others. It turns out that it takes only a slight change the intonation to switch the plus sign with the minus. There is an old joke: "One man had to apologize to his colleague and tell his colleague that he was a smart man. The man said, Dear colleague, you are a smart man? I apologize…" The words are the same but the intonation reverses the meaning.
First of all, the visual esthetic of the film has colorful, oversimplified character – like a peasant woodcut: the colors and textures amplify the seemingly light tone of the story. The bright colors of the film defy the color schemes of all previous films about the Red Revolution made during the Soviet era. The Soviet propaganda cultivated the realism of Soviet myths and legends; it was the ground stone of Soviet filmmaking. In The Orator it is the opposite: the sets look like they were cut out of cardboard; objects are not material; sets are obvious backlots; and "the heroes of the revolution" are funny and cute people. This style is a sign of the newborn cinema esthetic we would call "no-Soviet". (One of the first no-Soviet films was Time of The Dancer by Vadim Abdrashitov).
The Orator has black-and-white inserts of documentary photographs in the style Eisenstein.
The second sign of this no-Soviet style is the intonation of the narrator. The story is told according to the rules of a fairytale: once upon a time a man named Iskander returned home with a young wife named Peri. Iskander ransomed Peri from highwaymen for fifteen Czar’s rubles. Upon his return, Iskander finds his older brother on his deathbed and in accordance with the rules of Sharia, all possessions of the older brother are passed to the younger one: his house, his horse, his furniture and his two wives. And so in one day Iskander becomes a homeowner and the husband of three wives. For the complete development of a fairytale we need some miracles. Miracles take place: Iskander finds himself in a demonstration. The Russian speaker named Vladimir (translate as "Lenin") points at Iskander and calls him a sympathizer to the revolution – "a comrade of the underground revolutionists". After this, the Russians hire Iskander as a chief speaker and agitator.
Iskander transforms from a poor man first into a homeowner with three beautiful wives, and then into "the voice" of the new power. What is the secret of the success? What is the golden key to open the right doors for Iskander? Of course, it is his knowledge of the Russian language, which represents his compatibility with a new culture. Iskander constantly repeats to his wives: "We have to prioritize your lessons in Russian language. Without Russian where would you go?" And then he yells out during the meeting: "Hurray to the Russian language!" His authentic culture is replaced with a hybrid one. The entrance of the new strange culture still continues gradually. Peri, his youngest wife, swipes the floor and repeats: "REV-COM" (an abbreviation for "Revolutionary Committee") or reads absurd Russian slogans: "Girls! Learn About Parachutes!"
The most important elements of this colorful peasant woodcut story are women. The film is about Iskander’s wives rather than him. In their embraces, he feels like a shah surrounded by love and care: one wife brings him dinner, another makes tea, and the third one is dancing for him. But this idyllic life ends. The new regime demands that his wives throw away their facial veils and he chooses only one of them to be his wife. Instead Iskander finds a fourth wife – the revolutionary activist Mairam Fazilovna. She represents a caricature of "the liberated woman of the East", and it is created in accordance with the colorful kitsch style of the filmmaker. Maraim Fazilovna is arrested for "distortion of the politics of the Communist party" and thrown in jail. In jail she gives birth to Iskander’s only son. Iskander is afraid to claim the child for he may be accused in connection with an "enemy of people". His wives claim the boy and raise him as their own child because he is a son of their beloved master and husband.
It is interesting to note that it is not the idealized Eastern paradise of the three wives, but the fruit of his Revolutionary love that gives Iskander an heir. The story is told from the point of view of the son of this heir – the grandson of Mariam Fazilovna. He adores his three grandmothers and disdains his grandfather Iskander, a former Red Revolution promoter. Iskander now lives somewhere in Russia, far away from his homeland.
Vladimir Propp, a prominent theorist of folklore, stated that one of the constant values of any fairytale is to be sent to search for something. Also, it always works in films. For this reason Iskander is sent to the countryside from Tashkent to promote the new government. Later, one of his wives is sent to Kiev to study. From his journeys Iskander brings goods and presents, his popularity grows and his family is untouched by mass repressions. As the story progresses, he is banned from his own home and has to move to a dormitory, and then leave his own motherland.
The film starts as an ironic story about the establishment of the Soviet Power in Uzbekistan. It ends as a philosophical reflection on what happens when one political paradigm comes to replace another one, and on what happens to people who seem easily to adapt to a hybrid culture. After a return to the authentic culture, the hybrid people are banned from their own country. The unexpected turn of the story gives the film a truly tragic depth.
Uzbekistan, 1998, 90 minutes, color
Director and Screenwriter: Yusup Razikov
Cinematographer: Ulugbek Khamrayev
Music by: Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky
Cast: B. Odilov, A. Alikhodzhayeva, D. Zakirov, L. Eltayeva, N. Rakhmonova, Sh. Khamrakulova
Awards and Participation in Film Festivals:
Grand Prize at the Kinoshok Film Festival in Anapa, 1999
Prize at the Moscow Film Festival, 2000
Participation in the Berlin Film Festival, 2000
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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