Directed by Adilkhan Yerzhanov
25 year-old John, his teenage brother Erbol, and their sickly 12 year-old sister Aliya, are forced to leave their house in the Kazakh city of Almaty. By luck their mother left them a house in a remote village, where they plan to prepare their comeback. But the house appears to be on the wish list of the District Officer’s alcoholic brother, who has lived there illegally for 10 years.
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★★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2014 Film #20
Reason for pick .. come by chance .. last minute decision.
Our original Final Sunday pick was Haemoo ( Sea Fog ). Our TIFF roomie and long time LB friend, Len, had seen it earlier in the week and declared it one star crap. That’s good enough for us. Also, Len decided against proceeding with a Midnight Madness he had a ticket for Saturday night so that the three of us could have one final hoopla night out before the end of the fest. Thus, the final spot, the last film of the fest was up for grabs. We tasked Len with coming up with a suggestion, and The Owners is what he put forth.
As the show began we see three souls, two brothers and a young sister, sitting at the side of a highway amongst some merge belongings. Some sticks of furniture, some cloths, and other sundries. They’re hitchhiking their way to someplace else. When they arrive at an equally merge destination, we learn that their mother has died, and left them a small house in the Kurdistan countryside. After settling, peace doesn’t last long, as a local of the village claims that he’s lived in the house for ten years, and that it’s his. Fists soon fly, and we learn that the authorities are not only on the squatter’s side, but also related.
Ok, at this point I’m kind of shifting in my seat. As things progress, and one of the brothers is jailed, I’m thinking that this is going to be some long and drawn out piece where united locals defend their turf against interlopers from the outside. I wasn’t wrong, but what started to happen at that point was something I didn’t expect at all. Gradually, elements of Kaurismaki and Lynch began to creep in. At first subtly, with an absurdist comment or two, but then with greater and greater presence. What at first looked like a simple dramatic story was quickly turning into an absurdest commentary. Suddenly speeches about the moral superiority of Soviet rule, enticing Mongolian looking women selling you what they just stole from you, splashes of brilliant yellow cropping up everywhere, and out-of-the-blue Lynch and Monty Python worthy dancing erupt like geysers as our protagonists wither.
There is no doubt that this is the shrewdest of political commentary. There’s equal certainty that I don’t have the knowledge to unravel it. A bit of Googling shows that Kazakhstan has, at turns, been occupied by the Mongolians and the Soviets. Their current government that sprang up when they declared independence after the fall of the Soviet Union seems to keep winning elections handily.
I am reminded of one of my all time favourite films, the Czech Closely Watched Trains. At some points The Owner its more subtle, at other times, way more overt. As the film thrashes to a conclusion, and our protagonists valiantly flay bright yellow on whatever they see, I connect one dot. The bright yellow in the Kazakstan flag represents hope.
A great way to end this year’s festival. Thanks Len!
★★★½ review by Len Fearnside on Letterboxd
The best on-screen dancing since Dogtooth.
★★★★ review by Paul Hernandez on Letterboxd
"Antes, cuando nuestros ancestros no podían seguir viviendo en un lugar, se movían a otro, pero ahora ya no queda ninguno. Debes irte, hijo".
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