The Adopted Son

Kyrgysztan/ France, 1998
Director, Screenplay: Aktan Abdykalykov
Russian with English subtitles
81 minutes
Festivals: Locarno (Silver Leopard), Montreal, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Tokyo (Special Mention), Thessaloniki, Viennale, Gijon, Sundance

Yet another tale of coming of age in the Sydney Film Festival. Adopted Son is unique in its setting and culture, but nevertheless still has sex as a primary theme. Of course, what else is puberty about anyway? This is Kyrgysztan, different from Sweden, Montreal or Beirut. How? There is not much here but the simple life in the village. Fun consists of playing in the mud, peeping on a local woman, stealing eggs and experimenting sexually with a sculpture of a naked woman made of sand. And there's no school, too! However, no drugs, no booze, no smokes - there are only decent, polite villagers here. The young people have their little mischiefs but they're very little - a boy insists the girl he is courting sit on the handlebar instead of the back seat (and finally all the other boys do the same), the boys fight over a girl, and at night the village is united in their fascination with the bright colours and music of Indian movies; young and old, girls and boys.

This film, beautifully shot in black/white and color, captures the small beauties and details of village life, the peacefulness, the relationship between the local people, and the emotions of growing up to find out that you are an adopted son. The village is emphasised in its simplicity, like one of those old unsophisticated (Asian) films that are so modest yet capturing. There is not much dialogue and the film works subtlely, the characters speaking through gestures and facial expressions. The soundtrack in this film, like in The Shoe, is important as it is great, there is always something going on, the flowing streams, gusty wind, chirping birds; the sounds of nature are constantly present. Life is beautiful? If you are in Kyrgysztan, perhaps.

The lack of dialogue, like in The Shoe, gives the film a documentary feel, especially if there were less subplots. There are explorations of the village, the villagers and their everyday activities that may look unfamiliar to the Western audience's eyes, and coming back to the story, there are explorations of growing up in a place where sex is not talked about openly (and so explored secretly) and how a death in the family can change your life so dramatically that you overrule your father as the head of the family (this is a 'different' culture after all!). So many coming-of-age films lack subtlety, but this is a much gentler example that leads you by the hand into the experiences of a boy in circumstances difficult in his own context being a part of the village, as peer pressure, money and abuse are not much of a problem in this pretty village.

natalia laban
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