The recent film The Owners by a Kazakhstani film director Adilkhan Yerzhanov was shown on the 11th of November 2015 at Calvert 22, a London-based not-for-profit contemporary art organisation. The screening was part of The New Social programme of screenings of films from the former Soviet bloc dedicated to uncovering the new social identities in the cinema of the region twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Yerzhanov (b. 1982) belongs to a new generation of film directors from Kazakhstan, who, similar to many contemporary artists from the country, finds their works more in demand abroad rather than at home. The director tells human stories, in Kazakhstani context using the language of Russian authors such as Dostoyevsky and international cinema traditions from Fellini to Tarantino.
The Owners is a parable of a parentless family, an ownerless house and a soulless humanity. The main characters, following the death of their parents, face the injustices of autocratic society, bureaucratic apparatus, individual and institutional corruption and senselessness. They are denied not only their human rights, but also basic needs.
The inescapability and gloom of the story are set off with a variety of visual constructs. Stunning mountainous landscapes, long contemplative shots, and direct references to visual art from da Vinci to Van Gough. The dialogue seems at time nonsensical, at other times – prophetic. In keeping with the post-modern tradition, no characters are intrinsically positive or negative. The actions are exaggerated to the state of farce, culminating in the closing scene.
The film feels fresh and almost experimental. It would sit as well with video art as it does within contemporary cinema. The visual experience makes intolerable – watchable, but it lingers with the viewer for days, if not weeks, to come.