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SAN SEBASTIAN 2023 New Directors

Review: Bauryna salu

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- Newcomer Ahkhat Kuchencherekov portrays a harsh story about the end of childhood and the violence of certain traditions with respect and love for his characters

Review: Bauryna salu
Yersultan Yermanov (right) in Bauryna salu

Despite its vast territory, Kazakhstan is a country we don't know much about and whose cinematography we don't usually hear much about. You have to go back to 2008 to remember Tulpan [+see also:
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, a huge success of Kazakh cinema, which travelled the world after being crowned the best film in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes that year. The story tells of a young boy who tries to win over his neighbour after returning to his remote village after his military service. The young actor Askhat Kuchencherekov, plays the role of Asa, the film's main character. Now Kuchencherekov is back in the news after his participation in the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival, which hosted the premiere of Bauryna salu, his directorial debut, in the New Directors section.

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The title of the film is also the name of an established tradition among the nomadic population of the Central Asian country. Following the tradition of "bauryna salu", it is to some extent customary for some newborn children to be given immediately after birth to a close relative, who will care for the child and raise them to adulthood. This is the case of Yersultan, the film’s protagonist, whom we meet when he is twelve years old and lives with his grandmother in a small village. The boy's hard life is spent between the salt mine, the fields and the humble house he lives in. Kuchencherekov's camera captures every detail of existence in this unique place, follows the characters observing their movements and portrays their way of life with respect, avoiding bucolic representations. The film functions almost as a valuable ethnographic document, without compromising on a purely narrative dimension where emotion and empathy for the protagonist are built on honesty and sensitivity.

Barely a third of the way through the film, Yersultan's grandmother dies and his life changes completely. This transformative event provides some of the film's most beautiful and painful moments. It is impossible to forget the face of Yersultan Yermanov (the actor who plays Yersultan), shaken with grief after receiving the news of his grandmother's death. The young actor endures a long close-up where every gesture of his face conveys the deepest pain, but also the full extent of the love the child felt for the woman who cared for him from birth. From this point on, everything changes for the boy, who has to return to the parents who one day decided to give him up in order to keep tradition.

As we accompany Yersultan in his new life, we discover the extent to which separation and loss mark his way of being in the world. The film is able to transform the painful process of growing up as a child who is no longer a child into images, who fulfils the longing to be with his parents again and who faces the difficult reality of not feeling loved and at ease with the people who should be giving him the love and understanding he so desperately needs. In his first film as a director, Askhat Kuchencherekov shows exquisite sensitivity and intelligence in getting inside the mind of a character going through very personal conflicts, but who the audience empathises absolutely and immediately with. This meticulous psychological portrait is also a panoramic portrait of a society of which we know very little and which this outstanding filmmaker manages to introduce us to, using a most intimate reality to give us a story with universal resonances.

Bauryna salu is a production of Kazakhstan's Askhat Film. Wide Management manages its international sales.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

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