Central Asia



To Preserve the Nerve Alive

(Interview with Marat Sarulu)

Every person is a mystery and every person is a source of unexpressed talents. Marat Sarulu embodies two qualities that nature usually separates – strong logic and fine imagination.

Marat Sarulu was born in 1957. He graduated from Kyrgyz State University with a major in Philosophy in 1980, and participated in graduate-level workshop for screenwriters and film directors in Moscow in 1984. In 1989 he had his début as the director and the production designer of The Prayer for the Chaste Bird, an animation. Also, Marat Sarulu served as co-author of several screenplays.

He directed the following narrative films:

Gulnara: I remember our meetings in Moscow in 1988-1989. You were studying animation in the workshop for screenwriters and directors and I was working on my MFA in VGIK. Now I can say that that time was the borderline of two epochs. Maybe we didn’t comprehend it in full but something in the air, in our thoughts, was new.

I think that In Spe, your first feature film, communicated very accurately the atmosphere of that time: some absentmindness, uncertainty, Western influence, and at the same time a strong connection with Eastern cultures – that was the time of the rise of the new generation of people…

Marat: There is one strange thing related to this film. The history of Kyrgyzstan, its political and public destiny, developed the way it was predicted in the film. Is it not an amazing coincidence?

Gulnara: What do you mean?

Marat: The film is the story of three brothers and how their greenhouse was sold at an auction. I do not preach obvious symbolism but that time I intended that the fall of the greenhouse would represent the fall of the hothouse system, in which we grew up. Only two or three years passed after the film and everything was sold out in our republic – factories, industrial plants, buildings…Literally, everything was sold out. Today we are in the situation that the oldest brother, one of the main characters of the film, found himself. He was left with nothing. In Silk Road, My Brother, my new picture, one of the characters says a very important phrase: "We all lost our Motherland." Motherland is not that patch of land that we are walking on; it’s something grander. And we are losing it…In Spe, the film, everything was predicted. Including the youngest brother who plays a mildly infernal character in a black shirt. We now have blank type of people. This person is nothingness; he brings an empty void with him.

Gulnara: I didn’t understand. Are you talking about drug addicts?

Marat: Not necessarily drug addicts. It can be a regular person in terms of physiology or psychology. He just doesn’t have a soul. We suppose that every human being is born with a soul. But many metaphysicians stated, including Gurdzhiyev, that a man is not born with a soul; a soul has to be earned, and earned by laboring over one’s own personal development. One has to give birth to his own soul. So, now we have a generation of new people who don’t know the technology to raise their own souls. They just don’t have it. They come and, without a doubt, destroy something that was built by many previous generations.

Gulnara: It is always easy to follow the images already created by somebody. But the originality of an artist is contained in the opposite, in creating something totally new – a language, a style, an image. I remembered In Spe because of its original images. The scene on the beach, where children build sand castles and a horse walks in the frame and takes three quarters of it – absolutely like avant-garde films of the 1920s. The image of the batwoman hanging upside down from a highbar is unusual. The shot, where the middle brother is sorting empty metal hangers in a wardrobe – as if they were skeletons or empty souls of people – is very memorable.

Marat: It is correct, in this picture I worked very carefully on the blocking. The scene where the girl and the young man are hanging upside down from the highbar was inspired by a Sufi story:

Once upon a time Bat was bragging before Wolf that she could turn the world upside down. Wolf said: "Show me how you can do it." Bat offered to wait until night. Night came and Bat flew to a branch of a tree and hung upside down. Bat said: "See, I turned the world upside down."

I remembered this old Sufi story because many young people now think that they are turning the world upside down now. But in reality the world cannot be flipped. For me this is a metaphor for the self-delusional state of being of this generation. They believe that they can bring some radical changes and breakthroughs in our society. I was very careful with transmitting this idea. I did it through a love relationship. This is why the criticism of the generation doesn’t come across in a harsh way. The viewer just enjoys the beauty of the scene – the young people look like they are spinning and kissing.

Gulnara: You and Aktan Abdikalikov are the two leading and somehow competing film directors of current Kyrgyz cinema. Aktan builds his pictures with national archetypes – traditions and ceremonies performed during funerals, births and initiations. You, on the other hand, work with more marginal for Kyrgyzstan but universal archetypes.

Marat: If you said this six or seven years ago, when I mad In Spe, I would say that you are right. But today it is not true. In My Brother Silk Road many things are different. For the first time I have irony and humor. I distanced myself from analyzing and embraced spontaneity.

Gulnara: According to the title you are using one of the most powerful archetypes – the archetype of traveling. Is that so?

Marat: Yes, of course. This is a roadfilm. Three children hurry to a railroad. They hope that the journey will change their life for good and that they will go away from this godforsaken place to somewhere far away. But inside the train is another, grownup universe, which doesn’t contain anything exciting. The grownups on the train have their own problems and their own broken lives, which represent potential futures of the children. I am kind of showing their future.

Gulnara: The parallels astound me. Serik Aprimov just finished his work on Three Brothers. It’s also about the railroad, about three children trying to escape to an imaginary paradise but everything ends very tragically…In general, I think that the parallelism of the themes is not a coincidence in Kazakh and Kyrgyz cinema, as well as in the rest of Central Asia.

Marat: That’s right, the process of the new wave took place at the same time in the all republics of Central Asia. I think that all these explosions of artistic activity take place during big historical changes. Our new Kyrgyz cinema was also born out of struggle…I think that there should be a painful nerve for the development of cinema, art in general. I thank God that my heart is still beating and that in My Brother Silk Road, my new picture, and this nerve is preserved alive. I was making this film and I was thinking that if this picture fails, I would not have other opportunities to make a film. I fought for every frame. I think that this kind of nervous tension cannot not to be imprinted on the celluloid reel of film.

November 28, 2000 Bishkek

Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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