SPECIAL:

Central Asia

©GULNARA ABIKEEVA

REVIEW

Until Daybreak

A social drama. An old man named Iskander lives on a collective farm and purchases seven boxes of silkworms for breeding. He is obsessed with an idea to make a lot of money during the summer season because the director of the collective farm promised to sell him land by the river. Iskander’s large family is excited and enthusiastic about the project. His granddaughter suggests that they empty their living quarters and breed the silkworms there for more effective results. The silkworms live in the bedrooms and the people live in the backyard. A family drama unfolds and two family members die. The little granddaughter Farida tries to immolate herself. However, all the personal drama is the background of the main action – the silkworms’ breeding.

I would name the film Until Daybreak one of the best films of the Uzbek cinema of the studied decade. The film reveals the character and lifestyle of an Uzbek the farmer to the viewer, exactly defines the relationships of people in a "makhalya" (a provincial Uzbek community); and the professional and artistic qualities of the film are very impressive.

How did it happen?

First, the film was shot in independent studios – it was started in Catharsis in Kazakhstan and was finished in Novda in Uzbekistan. The filmmaking process took more than six years, but unfortunately the film exists only in one or two copies. Second, the film openly criticizes the social problems of Uzbek society. It would have never been released if it had any hint on the action is set in the present time. Hence, the title Until Daybreak – meaning until president Islam Karimov came to power. I think the title was chosen with the "help" of the censors.

Third, in the 1990s, Uzbekistan was a closed society to international film festivals. The international film community didn’t know anything about the films produced in Uzbekistan and about the processes in the development of Uzbek cinema. The government politics were concentrated on the inside, rather than the outside.

On one hand, the film Until Daybreak shows the vanished reality of 1970 - 1980, the period of the economic decay of the Brezhnev government. The film has a certain "retro" style, however, it absolutely doesn’t mean that this couldn’t take place today, when all Central Asian republics are experiencing the return to the archaic and traditional lifestyle.

Yusuf Azimov, who became a film director in the midst of the collapse of the Soviet Union, tells this very simple but touching story about an Uzbek family in a village, where hard labor is the only moral value and meaning of life.

I saw for the first time this miraculous process of silkworms’ cocoons ripening in this film. Of course, attending to millions of silkworm eggs is very labor intensive. Thus, the entire Iskander’s family becomes of a secondary importance to the breeding process. The family is traditionally large: three men – Grandpa Iskander, his son Rustam and their hired worker Azamat; two women – Rustam’s wife and sister; and three children – two teenage girls and a little boy. All together there are eight people. The film is presented as a family saga and therefore every character has his own unique role.

Their life continues in a customary routine. Everybody knows his or her job and is eager to receive a big harvest. The path to a big harvest is hard and labor-intensive. As soon as the silkworms hatch, they need to be fed with mulberry leaves. Sinse the entire village is breeding silkworms, all the trees are bare of their leaves. The family members have to go farther and farther to gather the leaves. It is not enough just to collect the leaves, they have to be shredded into small pieces with scissors. One day of hard work replaces another and so on. The exhausted children fall asleep right at the table, shredding the leaves. Iskander carries them to bed.

Even though the picture is three hours long and takes place in a limited space, it is not monotonous. After the film’s screening at the Moscow Film Festival, film critics compared it to the Japanese film Bare Island by Kaneto Sindo. In Bare Island, it seemed that there is nothing else of importance, besides the exhausting watering of small patches of land. In the Uzbek picture, similarly, the only important thing is the silkworm breeding.

The film portrays traditional patriarchal life, in which all the problems are solved in the archaic way – eye for an eye, blood for blood. The director of the collective farm has a son Madjit, who feels that he is above the law. Madjit tries to seduce Iskander’s granddaughter Farida; and when he doesn’t succeed he rapes her. Ashamed of herself, Farida tries to immolate herself. Her mother notes that the little can of gasoline is missing and alarms everybody. Azamat saves Farida from the flames. Enraged, Rustam runs out of his house with a knife. We see neither Rustam nor Madjit again in the film. Gossips are spreading through the village that they both left to the city and never came back.

The disappearance of people is one of the signs of a totalitarian regime. Obviously, in a small community like this collective farm, everything is right out in the open. However, the people do not try to seek justice and protect their dignity – and this is the direct reflection of the totalitarian epoch. The people are submissive and passive; the main events – revenge and death – are left behind the scenes. The only thing kept in focus is the breeding the silkworms. By this switch of the story’s focus, the film director reveals a man’s existence in the totalitarian system. Maybe it hasn’t changed even today.

Until Daybreak

Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan, 1994, 124 minutes, color

Director: Yusuf Azimov

Screenwriters: Yusuf Azimov, Sergei Zorin, Ramil Yamalayev

Cinematographers: Vladimir Kovlaski and Hamidulla Hasanov

Production Designer: Kahramon Nuritdinov

Music by: Nurilla Zakirov

Cast: Akmal Mirzahanov, Bahtiyar Nazarov, Maya Nasirova, Gulnara Hakimova, Yakub Akhmedov.

Production of "Novda" (Uzbekistan) and "Catharsis" (Kazakhstan)


Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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