My Brother Silk Road
Metaphysical drama. Four children from a mountain village are convinced by the oldest of them to take a difficult journey through the steppe to the railroad, which lies on the path of the ancient Great Silk Road. A train hurries by the children. The different destinies of the grown-ups on the train pass by in front of the kids. There is an artist supplementing his income by doing drawings on the train. His railcar is taken over by a group of hooligans and they throw the artist out of the train. The philosophical beginning and the end meet: the thrown out artist and children trying to get on the train. The oldest child rushes after the artist and begs to take him along. The rest of the children return home with an old shepherd.
Marat Sarulu is a philosopher by his nature and an artist by his self-expression. He works on the level of grandiose philosophical concepts and generalizations therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that his film My Brother, Silk Road is divided into two parts unequal in length. The first episode is called The Golden Pheasant and is a hymn to nature: the children travel through a forest waking up after its winter sleep. There are no green leaves yet, but the earth is already breathing with spring. The second episode is called The Great Silk Road and is a statement of civilization encoded in the train and its passengers. Every coach in the train is a habitat of people and their destinies, and the whole train is a metaphor for modern society, which, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired. Another interpretation can be that the train is the Soviet past and the forest is the return to Kyrgyz traditional culture. It is common to believe that an artist-philosopher is capable of creating only cold intellectual constructions. However, Marat Sarulu is distant from any logical structures and follows the visual nature of cinema by presenting the very routine of life. He does it brilliantly: the footage of the children in the forest is memorizing. According to French film critics, the scene, in which the children draw sap from birch branches, will enter the annals of the world cinema.
This very long journey, unburdened by conversation or the film director’s attempts to create action, is the most expressive part of the film. The filmmaker speaks the language of metaphors and symbols. Everything is full of symbols: the hole in a tree, in which the youngest child hides; a river; an old man that they meet… This is the space of proto-nature, purity, childhood and traditional culture. When the children come to the railroad, we see a wooden fence holding back snow from the mountains. This simple detail reads as a symbolic border between nature and civilization and the length of the shot emphasizes its metaphorical meaning.
Gideon Bachman, a German culturologist, expressed an interesting observation during the Kazakh Cinema Discussion panel at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival: "The viewers always sense a specific film style in Kazakh films. In the West, we already forgot about form, style. And you didn’t. The strongest suit of your cinema is atmosphere and the poetry of a mood. I may not keep in mind exactly the plots of your films but I always remember some frames."
I would say the same thing about the film My Brother, Silk Road. The story is not important here. What is important that the viewer feels the real human values on an almost physical level. Real human values are not civilization and its discarded waste, but nature – the origin of existence.
Therefore the train is filled with unsympathetic characters with broken and damaged lives. Marat Sarulu suggests that the worst possible case scenarios of the children’s future lives are presented in the lives of the people on the train. It is unfortunate that they try to get on that train. Only disillusionment and disappointment are waiting for them on the train of life. The final shots of the film are of the face the Russian train engineer, who is the only European in the entire film (it brings us again to the interpretation of the train as the Soviet Imperialism, and maybe even deeper – the view of the Western culture) and a toy train riding in a circle without any other prospective path.
It is interesting to note that there are no positive characters in the film. The artist as the protagonist ties together all small novellas – a family quarrel of the female train attendant; girls and hooligans; a demobilized soldier, a prostituting waitress, etc. The artist is not a positive character, too. In his life everything is turned upside down and his return to his homeland is accidental – he is thrown out of the train. The oldest kid follows the artist but it is doubtful what he can learn from him. They both walk in the deserted steppe: a penniless "teacher" and his new "pupil."
The other children return home. On their way home, they startle a pheasant in the bushes. The bird flies up to the sky as a symbol of the pure love and original innocence, which the children haven’t lost yet.
My Brother, Silk Road
80 minutes, black and white
Producer: Sain Gabdullin
Director and Screenwriter: Marat Sarulu
Cinematographer: Shailobek Jekshenbayev
Music by: Baktibek Alisherov
Cast: Tinar Abdrazayeva, Elmira Kabataikizi, Busurman Odurakayev,
Production of Kino Company (Kazakhstan), Kumai Art-Studio and Kyrgyzfilm
Awards and Participation in Film Festivals
Grand Prize at the Festival of Three Continents, 2002
Grand Prize at the Asian Cinema Film Festival, 2003
Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003
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