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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Harmony Lessons Movie Review


It is indeed an extremely rare circumstance when I walk into a film and am totally caught off-guard by what I see. I suppose this could be a good or bad thing. In "Harmony Lessons", the debut from Emir Baigazin of Kazakhstan, I was bowled over in a way that almost shocked me, and in this case it was most definitely a good thing.

In the very first scene Baigazin twists our view in an instant. What starts out as a young boy playfully chasing a sheep in front of his house quickly becomes something quite different. No, it's not that, but it is pretty graphic.


Aslan Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov) is a painfully quiet 13-year-old boy who lives with his grandmother (Bagila Kobenova) in a bleakly plain home on the steppes of rural Kazakhstan. His classmates tease him mercilessly including a prank that ostracizes him to the point where he has become a total outcast. To say he is picked on would not tell the entire truth. No one is even allowed to sit next to him in class.

He has reached a point where it is no longer necessary to do anything to him. It has fallen to the depths of if any classmate even talks to him, they will bear the brunt of the punishment. The leader of this gang mentality is Bolat (Aslan Anarbayev). He has the look and demeanor of a Russian thug packed into a 5-foot tall 13-year-old boy. He rules with an iron fist and has similarly sized henchmen that help him enforce their laws.

Mirsayan (Mukhtar Andassov), is the new kid who has been sent from the city to stay with his aunt until his parents' divorce is finalized. Mirsayan is a tall, good-looking, and friendly kid and he knows nothing of the rules of the school. He immediately befriends Mirsayan which leads to inevitable confrontations with Bolat and his boys. This sets off a series of events that can only be described as shocking and troubling. This trend continues throughout the rest of "Harmony Lessons" leading us down a path that reveals things that are squirm-inducing, until a finale that is almost unthinkable.

Emir Baigazin is still in his twenties and to make such a strong and original mark right out of the box is quite impressive. Cinematographer Aziz Zhambakiyev also stamps himself as a talent who is worth keeping an eye on. The look of everything here is starkly beautiful. I do believe that a lot of you will find nothing beautiful here. Lastly, something has to be said for the individual performance of Timur Aidarbekov in the lead role. He has a unique look and presence that is brought out wonderfully by Mr. Baigazin. It will be interesting to see if Aidarbekov can strike gold. I can't imagine there are too many opportunities for performers who debut in Kazakhstan cinema, but if it is possible, he will find a way.

Many of you may just be uncomfortable with all of it, and that would be understandable. However, there is real talent at many levels of "Harmony Lessons", and their performances may not fit your typical perceptions of harmony. Nevertheless, if you can handle being a tad uncomfortable, and you see this, you will definitely be rewarded.

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