Dir / scr: Sharipa Urazbayeva. Kazakhstan. 2021. 113 min.
Anar (Ainur Bermukhambetova) accepted without question the decision of her husband Marat to leave the city for a small community in the Kazakh steppes. But life is tough. Anar’s work has dried up since the death of his laptop; she still struggles to fit into the role of stepmother to Marat’s son, Adil; her pregnancy is considered high risk due to her age and severe anemia. Then Marat (a suitably insane Bolat Momynzhanov) disappears and Anar is forced to survive on her own, Marat’s creditors run in circles and the extent of her husband’s questionable life choices only begins to become clear. The second film by Kazakh writer and director Sharipa Urazbayeva, Red pomegranate is sincere in its attempts to shed light on sexual violence, poverty and the plight of women in patriarchal rural communities in Kazakhstan. But the lack of finish in many aspects of the shoot can limit the scope of the image.
The main asset of the film is the cinematography
Urazbayeva’s first feature film, Mariam, dealt with similar themes, telling the real-life story of a woman whose husband has disappeared, leaving her to raise their four children, before reappearing just as brutally in her life. Rather than recruiting an actor for the central role, Urazbayeva decided to choose the woman the film was based on, bringing verisimilitude to the storytelling. Mariam screened at the Locarno, Toronto and Busan festivals, among others, and won the Cyclo d′Or at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas. It is unlikely that Red pomegranate will have the same success, although it might resonate with programmers looking for problem-oriented, female-led films.
The film’s main asset is the cinematography, which utilizes the grand steppe landscapes as effectively as it does the four oppressive and tight walls of the new home shared by Amar, Marat, and Adil. But there is a platitude in the shooting – the ample editing, the mannered performances – which rather diffuses any tension which could have been created. It’s a shame, because there are a lot of components for tense domestic drama in the mix. Amar’s worries about the money are compounded by threats from debt collectors that make it clear, unequivocally, that Marat’s life is in danger.
Then there is a nasty incident involving Adil. Amar is determined that the culprit be punished for his crime against his stepson. But the culprit is well connected, and Amar is both a newcomer to the city and a woman, so she has little influence over local law enforcement. Marat’s support is not available – he is either reported missing and incommunicado or, once back in the family home, obstructive, critical and inclined to side with the city’s powerful men rather than his wife. .
It’s a sparse approach to filmmaking, with few scores and just a thunderous rumble and countdown to indicate moments of tension. It puts an uncomfortable emphasis on shots of Amar looking sadly and wordlessly in the middle of the distance, and performances in which the game is a bit too close to the surface.
Producers: Duman Kozhahmetov, Sharipa Urazbayeva, Temirbek Amanzhol, Marzhan Bekmaganbetova
Photography: Zhandos Zhumabaev
Editing: Rustem Tuyakbaev
Music: Marina Makarova
Main actors: Ainur Bermukhambetova, Bolat Momynzhanov