Yellow Cat - A wistful love for cinema in Kazakh style
It celebrates the coruscating future of Kazakh cinema in the 2020's
The 2010s have been breakthrough years for Kazakh cinema: Emir Baigazin's debut feature "Harmony Lessons" (2013) was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and won the Best Cinematography Award, while his third feature "The River" (2018) was screened at the Venice Film Festival in the Orizzonti section, awarded the Best Director Award. In addition, new talents are beginning to emerge, such as Eldar Shibanov and Zhannat Alshanova. However, there is another important figure who is leading the Kazakh film industry in the 2010's. This is Adilkhan Yerzhanov, and his new film "Yellow Cat", premiered at Venice International Film Festival, celebrates the coruscating future of Kazakh cinema in the 2020s.
The protagonist of the film is a young man named Kermek (Azamat Nigmanov), who is released from prison recently, trying to find a job in order to become an honest man. However, the warden, who holds a grudge against him, gets in the way of him and Kermek gets into turbulence.
Adilkhan's direction is very serene. Together with cinematographer Yerkinbek Ptyraliyev, he gazes at the landscapes in front of him without any pretence. His gaze is unwavering, and he tells the story in a firm manner without shaking or obfuscation.
The film takes place on the vast field named Steppe in Kazakhstan. Here intermingled are the endless barrenness and the breathtaking sublimity, leaving the viewer in a strange state of awe. The atmosphere that prevails there is outright serious.
But the director elicits deadpan humour out of this seriousness. The characters, including Kermek, are all quirky and unique. They behave in strange ways, and Something funny about human existence emerges from there. The way of Kazakh people's life depicted here is somewhat awkward, although the director sees a deep affection in it.
While secluded in the town, Kermek meets a prostitute named Eva (Kamila Nugmanova). They soon make a relationship, beginning to make plans to get out of the town. And they have a dream: to build a movie theatre in the mountains, far from here.
That's why there are so many movie jokes in this film. The most memorable scene is when Kermek tries to reenact Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samouraï ". He tries to act as Alain Delon, but it's so badly done that the audience is left speechless in the worst way. So, love for cinema is also directly related to the aforementioned humour.
Adilkhan Yerzhanov is one of the leading directors of Kazakh cinema in the 2010s. He has already made nine features since his debut feature "Rieltor" in 2011, many of which have been selected for prestigious festivals. The Owners" (2014), about a young man trapped by police corruption and nepotism, and "The Gentle Indifference of the World" (2018), a Kazakh interpretation of neo-noir, were selected for the Cannes Film Festival. "A Dark-Dark Man" (2019), about a journalist who pursues a murder case and exposes the conspiracy behind it, was screened at San Sebastián Film Festival. "Yellow Cat" is his first film selected for the Venice International Film Festival.
While many of his films have an element about crime, "Yellow Cat" connects this element to the droll comedy. With an audacious, funny homage to Tony Scott's "True Romance", Kermek and Eva start to go on the run. And while committing crimes out of necessity, they scramble to make their dream come true.
This escapade unfolds in endless steps, so the sense of endlessness begins to fill the film. Strange flavours and deadpan humour slowly deepen amidst the sublimity of the prairie. But their happiness is not to last. The police and the mafia track them down, and their lives are being driven to the plight. When their pathos and awkward humanity intersect, complex emotions that defy words to emerge exuberantly. "Yellow Cat" prognosticates the even bigger rise of the Kazakh film industry in the 2020s. The film's love for cinema will penetrate our hearts in a silent way.