SPECIAL:

Central Asia

©GULNARA ABIKEEVA

REVIEW

The Time of the Yellow Grass

In a mountain village, the inhabitants live their lives in an unhurried style. Old men store their hay; women bake their bread. Life goes in its usual circle until one day a boy, Baimurod, finds the corpse of a young man in the mountains. The corpse does not have marks of violence. Nobody identifies the corpse – he was, obviously, a stranger. The men and women of the village do not know what to do with it. The corpse disturbs them because it makes the villagers worry about their family members who are away from home. They leave the body for one night in an old mosque and the next morning the entire village buries him with respect.

When I see this film, I think again how prophetic the heart of an artist can be. In The Time of the Yellow Grass, Mairam Yusupova, the film director, communicated the tension and uncertainty that become reality with the beginning of the civil war in Tadzhikistan.

At first, nothing happens in the customary life of the village, then all of a sudden the corpse of a young man appears. As if he just walked and then died without any reason. There is not any noise, no gunshots, and no evidence of any struggle. Old women begin whimpering, projecting this death on their sons who are away from home. This is a very strange corpse.

The cinema of Mairam Yusupova is also interesting in its lack of any dramatic structure. The director observes the reactions of people under these circumstances in almost documentary fashion. The villagers are sincerely confused and have no idea what they should do with the body. Nobody wants to keep it in his home overnight and nobody can throw it out like a dead stray dog. They return to their homes and project this situation onto themselves.

In Baimurod’s house, a scandal breaks out. His mother, still a young woman, sits behind a mill and tries to hide her tears. Her mother-in-law comes and curses the young woman for mourning for her husband before his time: "May your eyes go blind! May jackals tear you apart!" They both understand that the trigger of this sudden argument is the corpse of a young man.

At dusk, the men decide to keep the dead body in the old mosque overnight. A dead body must be washed before being brought to a mosque. The old men take care of it, wrap the body in white sheets, and only then leave him in the mosque.

The mosque is a run-down and abandoned place, where birds and termites nest. Rarely anybody comes here, especially at night. This night two young men come to throw the dead body away somewhere in the mountains and avoid dealing with the problem. They are scared away by the screech of a night bird. Then an old man comes and reads a prayer for the dead. This way, coincidently, the ritual of kusetu (the family sitting with the dead before the funeral) is performed. One action involves the following one, etc. One must bathe a dead before brining to a mosque; one must read the prayer before burying a man. It becomes clear that century–old traditions and rituals invisibly control the events.

All the footage dealing with the corpse is black-and-white. The footage of the regular village life is in color. The two worlds meet that day – one world of light and color, of everyday life, and the other is the world of darkness and death. At the beginning, there are very little of black-and-white images, then when the story progresses the black-and-white dominates.

Besides the color decision, the sound track has an unexplainable booming sound. The sound comes from far away, but moves closer and closer. This is, probably, the sound of approaching war.

The morning in the village starts with shashmakom (newscasting in form of loud singing traveling from house to another). In this chanting there is news of the funeral for the young stranger, their worries about their young sons traveling away from home, and their fears of these unstable times. The men of the village are burying the stranger, while the women are singing.

On one hand, the chain of events is obvious: if a man dies, he needs to be buried according to the rituals of his people. But here the chain itself is broken. Why does this young man die without any reason? Why don’t his family and friends mourn for him? Why do strangers have to bury him? The order is broken – the universe falls apart. This death is the first sign of the forthcoming tragedy.

According to the article of Political Processes and the Civil war in Tadzhikistan by D. Mirzokulov, the civil war in Tadzhikistan took the lives of 20, 000 people during six months of 1992.

 

The Time of the Yellow Grass

Tadzhikistan, 1991, 65 minutes, black-and-white and color

Director: Mairam Yusupova

Screenwriters: Aleksey Katunin, David Chubinishvili, and Saif Rakhimov

Cinematographer: Okil Khamidov with the participation of Zakrie Israilov

Production Design: Valeri Novoselov

Original Score by: Pavel Tursunov

Cast: Roland Makarov, Babadzhan Khasanov, Musovar Minamov, Djamshet, Usmanov, Safar Khakdodov

Produced by: Soyuztelefilm and Tadzhikfilm

 

Awards and Participation in Film Festivals:

Moscow Film Festival, 1992

Pusan International Film Festival, Korea, 2000


Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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