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BLACK NIGHTS 2022 Competition

Review: Cold as Marble


- Two lovers and a convict father make the leap from comedy to tragedy in Asif Rustamov’s sophomore directorial effort

Review: Cold as Marble
Elshan Asgarov and Natavan Abbasli in Cold as Marble

For a film bearing the title Cold as Marble, its opening is actually quite warm and funny. Jazz music plays from an old gramophone in a stylish, luxurious home, while two lovers share an after-sex cigarette in bed. A mobile phone ringing shatters this retro-styled idyll: it turns out that the place is not a home, but a house museum dedicated to the (possibly fictional) academic Agha Bayramov, and that the two of them have crashed the place for a secret meeting. Judging by the cars the two drive off in, she is the one who has something to hide: she is an employee of the museum and, as it turns out, the wife of a wealthy businessman, while he, with his long hair and unkempt beard, looks like a failed-artist type of slacker.

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Premiering in the Tallinn Black Nights competition, Cold as Marble is the sophomore directorial effort by Azerbaijani filmmaker Asif Rustamov, following his 2014 debut, Down the River. Rustamov made a name for himself as a screenwriter on Ilgar Najaf’s films Red Garden (2016), Pomegranate Orchard [+see also:
film profile
(2017) and Sughra and Her Sons (2021). None of his previous efforts could be classified as comedies, but Cold as Marble at least starts out in that realm and later turns into something more serious.

The man of the couple, played by Elshan Asgarov, is actually a failed artist, potentially owing to his blindness in one eye, so he has to work as a gravestone engraver, specialising in portraits of the deceased. Another peculiar thing about him is his habit of avoiding the bedroom in his modest house, even when his married girlfriend (Natavan Abbasli) visits him. His routine changes one day when he finds an unexpected visitor who has broken into the house – his own father (Gurban Ismailov, the winner of the Best Actor Award at the festival), who is supposed to be serving a prison sentence.

The dad keeps berating the son, shouting homophobic slurs at him and trying to steer his life to bring it more into line with his own hustle schemes. However, unlike other people, the son knows his father’s dark secret and why he was imprisoned in the first place, and the girlfriend may have a scheme of her own that can be brought to fruition only with the help of a criminal. It seems that tragedy might repeat itself in yet another cycle...

Rustamov and his co-writer, Roelof Jan Minneboo, with whom he has collaborated on the majority of his work, set and then deftly manipulate the tone of their script. It starts out as comedic, toying with some absurdist, Coen brothers-like humour, passing through romance and family drama, and heading right into the territory of tragedy. Rustamov converts the story, both locally flavoured and universal at its roots, into a compact and smooth film, relying on the studied camerawork by Oktay Namazov and Adil Abbasov, and the editing by Rza Asgarov, but also paying special attention to directing the actors with a blend of guidance and trust for their instincts. All three leading thesps are marvellous in their roles, and the chemistry they share proves to be more than enough to channel the strange dynamics in the triangle formed by these nameless, wounded losers, making Cold as Marble red-hot.

Cold as Marble is a co-production between Azerbaijan and France, through the companies Azerbaycanfilm, itv, Baku Media Center and Arizona Films.

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