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Movie Critique: Bauryna Salu (2023) directed by Askhat Kuchinchirekov
Movie Critique: Bauryna Salu (2023) directed by Askhat Kuchinchirekov

Movie Critique: Bauryna Salu (2023) directed by Askhat Kuchinchirekov

The helmer’s statement in “Bauryna Salu” is inspired by his personal experience as the eldest child whose life was forever changed due to an old nomadic tradition. The film’s title, “Bauryna Salu,” refers to this tradition, which the director’s parents followed when they gave him away to his grandmother at the age of one. This experience left him with a sense of emptiness that still lingers within him. The movie focuses on this tradition, called “Bauryna Salu” in Kazakh, which has been practiced since the days of communal living and continues to be followed regardless of a family’s social status or financial situation. The film highlights the damaging impact of such practices on children who grow up separated from their parents.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the movie shows the tradition of giving a baby to its grandmother, who is symbolically “giving birth” by pulling the distressed toddler’s body through her sweater from underneath her skirt. One of the older women remarks, “Now you have your first child at the age of 40. Your son will be the protector of your home’s heart.” The women then bless the child and protect him from “evil eyes and sharp tongues.” However, what the boy will not be protected from in the future is a life of secrecy about his origins and isolation from everyone except the grandmother.

Yersultan Yermanov, a 12-year-old boy, is seen gathering salt alongside a large group of children. This task is physically demanding and takes place in the sun, but it is considered acceptable for kids to participate. Yersultan lives with his grandmother in an isolated nomadic village and frequently misses school to work and save up money for a journey to visit his parents, who have not been in contact with him since he was given away. The only proof he has of their existence is an old photograph depicting a young couple holding a baby.

In 2008, international viewers were first introduced to Askhat Kuchinchirekov as the lead role of Asa in Sergey Dvortsevoy’s award-winning drama “Tulpan.” For his performance, Kuchinchirekov received the Muhr AsiaAfrica Award for Best Actor in a Feature Film at the Dubai International Film Festival. In “Bauryna Salu,” Kuchinchirekov takes on the role of introducing a talented young actor, Yersultan Yermanov, who portrays a troubled and introverted boy facing obstacles at every turn. Kuchinchirekov also incorporates subtle hints about his character’s childhood dreams into the script and attributes them to Yersultan’s closest friend, who aspires to leave for Almaty and pursue an acting career.

The most powerful moment in the film is when we witness Yersultan’s grief over his grandmother’s death. The camera is so close to his face that it captures the full extent of his pain and loneliness, leaving no room for escape. This scene also marks a shift in the story. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. When Yersultan’s dream finally comes true, the family reunion is not at all what he had hoped for. He is taken from his village by his mother and forced to endure a silent journey to his new home in another part of the country. There is no connection between him, his parents, and his younger sibling. This impressive debut by the Kazakh director is both touching and poignant.

Zhanrbek Yeleubek, the DoP, skillfully captures the stunning beauty of the expansive Khazakh landscape. He utilizes low angle shots to highlight the striking contrast between the vibrant blue skies and greenery in the distance, against the dull, muddy ground.

Last year, “Bauryna Salu” premiered at the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival in the New Directors section. It was recognized as the Best Youth Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and is currently being shown at the Black Movie Film Festival.