Adilkhan Jeržanov

It is always exciting to familiarise yourself with directorial personalities from countries with lesser-known film industries, in this case Adilkhan Yerzhanov, the most notable name in 2000s Kazakhstani cinema. Born in 1982 in the copper mining town of Zhezkazgan, the writer-director-editor represents the country’s post-Soviet “wave.” Then again, how familiar are we with even Soviet-era Kazakhstani cinema, despite having been, in a sense, neighbouring countries at the time? And granted, the country is very remote from our perspective, as indicated by Yerzhanov’s 2015 breakthrough film The Owners being named among the 100 best Asian films at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

Yerzhanov, the first-ever Kazakh guest at Sodankylä (though we have screened three of his films before), is equally adept at creating wild tragicomedies, colourful melodramas, and dark detective thrillers.

“Love. And lack of money. When these two things come together, the poetry begins. The conflict between the material world and the spiritual world takes place. There comes an awareness of how much a person is doomed in a modern pragmatic society.” Yerzhanov’s motto, taken from the streaming service MUBI’s homepage, could serve as a summary of his filmography, which, spanning from 2007 onwards, consists of 15 feature-length films, two short films, and one TV show — though there are “pure” comedies in the mix as well.

Adilkhan Yerzhanov may come from a remote culture, but comments sparked by The Owners comparing his minimalist style to that of Aki Kaurismäki, and the sense of familiarity evoked by similarities between the mountain-fringed Kazakh steppes and the mountainous “taiga” of Lapland, once again remind us of the universal resonance of cinema.

Timo Malmi