SPECIAL:

Central Asia

©GULNARA ABIKEEVA

REVIEW

Toba (Repentance)

A social drama. The main character is one of the so-called new Turkmens Ė the new capitalists. He lives in a luxurious home. All day he is wrapped up in his business matters and at night he invites over business people or goes to visit ones with his wife. His mother from a village comes to visit him. She stays in her son house but he doesnít give her a time of a day to listen to her problems. One day passes after another and mother leaves. She feels un-needed and, moreover, her son is ashamed of her humble origin and a villagerís simplicity. In he home village, the mother feels very hurt by her relationships with her son, indifference of her daughter-in-law and estrangement of her grandchildren. One morning she dies from a heart attack and her neighbors call her son in the city. The son is shocked by the news and only now he remembers that during his mothers visit he didnít spare a minute to find out about her health and feelings. He comes to the village for the funeral and decides not to return to the city. The death of his mother makes him change his life all around. At the end of the film the son wonders lost in the desert with a little stray lamb following him. He doesnít know what to do now and how to live.

It is interesting to examine the story of the film through categories of "the post-colonial mentality" development. What is past and what is future? How and why we reevaluate our moral values? The answers of scholars of the post-colonial cultures lie in the comparison between hybridism and authenticity of moral categories.

   

It is not accidental that the film is divided into two opposite spaces. First is the city, where the protagonist lives is a hybrid of the Soviet era. He, his wife and children speak a mixture of Russian and Turkmen languages. The most important values are material possessions: expansive clothing, computers, cars, etc. Here, human relationships are not built on tribal duty principal. They rather derived from the Soviet mentality Ė you scratch my back and I scratch yours. There from comes the routine of inviting over "the right" people: bosses, statesmen, rich and powerful acquaintances. The visuals match the urban environment: staircases, elevators, cement constructions.

The mother of the protagonist is a carrier of the authentic culture. She comes from countryside to the city in order to spend some time with her children and grandchildren and treat her heart problems after the death of her husband. Instead of a warm welcome and traditional respect, the mother receives a cold estrangement from her sonís family. According to the Turkic traditions she should seat at the place of honor at the dinner table but her son asks her do eat the kitchen, when he dines important guests. He is afraid the guests would find out that he is from a village originally and doesnít introduce his mother to anybody. The mother is not only a specific character but also an image of Turkmen culture Ė her behavior, language, appearance and mentality. Her children and grandchildren, a harmony in their home and connection with nature are the most important values for her. She is an embodiment of Motherland.

In the celebrated essay "On National Culture" of Frantz Fanon the second stage of post-colonial development is defined as a return to an idealized view of the traditional culture. In cinema, often this process comes around as a translation of re-born national iconography to the screen and the restoration of the lost national past.

Therefore, the return of the protagonist to his village represents an effort towards the realization of the national self-identity. The death of the mother symbolizes the change of epochs. The Soviet era ended and the independence period began returning people to their traditional Turkmen culture Ė this is why the protagonist decides to remain in the village.

At one moment his life, dedicated to his pursuit of material possessions: expensive clothing, a summerhouse, a car, continues guests for connection purposes, a wife taking only about money, seems to him as a meaningless waist of time. He decides to stay in his parentsí house, and only thing he regrets now is that he didnít spend his motherís last days close to her. The suffering from his sense of guilt donít leave him. He makes a traditional Turkmen "chaban" (robe) goes to the desert. Will he find his spiritual rebirth or will he die in the desert? The film director leaves this question open.

Also, the title of the film Toba means repentance in Turkmen. It is repentance not only about his betrayal of his mother, but also his betrayal of his motherland, culture, and traditions. This repentance is the first step towards new regeneration.

Toba (Repentance)

Turkmenistan, 1996, 90 minutes, color

Directed and Written by: Khalamed Kakabayev

Cinematographer: Batir Atayev

Production Designer: Byashim Karadshayev

Music by: Igor Pinkhasov

Cast: Chari Ishankuliyev, Salikh Batramov, Aisaltan Berdiyeva, Kerim Annanov

Turkmenfilm Studio

 

Awards and Participation in Film Festivals

Award of the jury at the Eurasia Film Festival in Almaty, 1998

Screening at the Kinoshok Film Festival in Anapa, 1997

Participation in Cinema-forum of CIS and Baltic countries in Moscow, 1999


Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

Back to Central Asian Special/ Index