Berlinale: 40 Days of Silence tackles Uzbek women’s tribulations
by Joseph Proimakis
- Metaphysical eeriness meets the practicalities of rural Uzbek life in a female-centred drama that demonstrates an acute social awareness
Wrapped in an atmospheric veil disguising it as a metaphysical drama, Saodat Ismailova’s feature debut 40 Days of Silence [+see also:
film profile] tackles a lot more than meets the eye, dazzled as it may be by the director’s mesmerising framing techniques.
The film starts off with an eerie soundtrack, setting the scene for an elderly ghost to enter the dark shot and comfort our seemingly struggling heroine, Bibicha. Impassively staring into nothingness, her heavy breathing is indicative of her woe. “This is a turning point in your life,” her aunt’s ghost says, urging Bibicha on, towards her vow of silence. One could think this will be a silent film.
Yet the voices in her head are plentiful and make up for her lack of words. “The ghosts in your past define your present,” they keep telling her, and as she moves into her grandmother’s old house to spend the 40 days of her vow, the importance of her own and her ancestors’ past becomes clearer with each passing minute: four generations of Uzbek women have struggled with their heritage, their culture and their incompatible views on life. Their relationships with men are only enhanced by the men’s complete absence from the frame.
Rural Uzbek life as lived by women swiftly becomes the central focus of the film, while the director demonstrates a great eye for detail. Her meticulous close-ups of the seemingly mundane expose the unsung poetry of everyday life, and though the film’s slow pace may prove challenging for some viewers, the film’s acute social awareness will certainly be rewarding for those patient enough to stick around for the delicately presented twist ending.
A co-production between Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Netherlands, Germany and France, the film is having its world premiere at the Berlinale’s Forum section.
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