The deterioration in a man's social and economic life from an obedient chauffeur to an obedient killer reflects the social deterioration that has accompanied lawless economics in newly established states of the former Soviet Union. The film reminds the viewer of Ernest Hemingway's short novel The Killers, in which the "Swede" cannot escape his ultimate fate of assassination by criminal elements. Darezhan Omirbaev's protagonist Marat cannot escape a similar fate.
The Film as Story
Marat, Kazakh chauffeur for a well known Russian scientific researcher in Almaty, capital of Kazahkistan, waits patiently for his patron to finish a studio interview--the topic, the falling level of scientific research in Kazahkistan. After the interview, the disillusioned aging researcher wanders through the bureaucratic halls, unsure of how to find his way out, constantly given careless information that prevents him from locating the exit.
Marat drops off the scientific researcher, picks up his wife and new born child from the hospital and heads home to his apartment. Distracted for a moment by the child, he collides with a Mercedes Benz in front of him. Being responsible and without insurance in the new "everyone for himself" Kazahkistan, Marat is obliged to repair the man's and the government's cars. Being that his son requires medical treatment that is not covered in the social benefits of the new Kazahkistan, Marat does not have the money to pay the automobile repairs. The man demands Marat have the car repaired and sends his enforcers to deliver severe blows to Marat as a preliminary warning for what further awaits him.
Unable to obtain loans from relatives who have already suffered huge losses from financial scams and misjudgements, Marat is forced to obtain a loan from a loan shark--a family man who lives comfortably , treats his family well and speaks soothingly to Marat.
The chauffeur pays for the car repairs. His pride deters him from shaking the extended hand of the man whose enforcers wounded him. He leaves to his next tragedy. The research center has been closed. In despair, his patron has committed suicide. Marat has no job and no automobile. He has no means to repay his loan except by forfeiting his apartment.
The noticeably less friendly loan shark, surrounded by his ever joyful family, gives Marat an offer he can't refuse--another loan for a new car which he can purchase in Germany. Marat moves inexorably forward to a fate from which he can't escape.
On his return from Germany, he stops to rest in a diner in the "new" Russia. A motorcycle gang that patrols the highways and preys on the motorists relieves Marat of his new car. The scornful loan shark presents Marat with a bill the unemployed chauffeur can never repay.
What to do? An ex-army friend, who works at a local bar and is in the pay of the loan shark, proposes a solution. "Marat, you were an expert shot in the military. The man to whom you owe the money has problems with a newspaperman who has been accusing the group of illegal business practices. They want him out. Just do the job and your debt will be canceled."
Marat has no recourse. Psychologically destroyed, he is now prepared to becoming a destroyer. He reluctantly liquidates the newspaperman. It seals his own fate. Assassins, who know he places the household trash in the street at mid-night, the same time that the electricity in the neighborhood is cut off for several hours, wait to liquidate him. He has no more use to them and no place in the new criminal society of Almaty, Kazahkistan.
The Film as Meaning
To the film aficionados of Western countries that require movie action, Killer's slow paced directorial style and low-key acting can make it appear as a lackluster and contrived melodrama. Marat can be Everyman, buffeted by evil forces and eventualy meeting the ultimate fate. The unusual location and details carry the film from the general to the specific. Its cinematic expression is in its content. To those in the Western countries who receive their information third-hand and massaged by a conventional media, the first hand socio-political comments by director Darezhan Omirbaev are a wealth of significant information.
We learn that the Soviets installed research facilities in their republics. This research facility is run by a Russian, and serviced by Kazakhs. It isn't clear if the Kazakhs are considerd incapable of managing research or if the Soviet Union made certain that Russians exercised control.
The researcher is not a corrupt "apparatchik." On the contrary, he is a dedicated manager who pursues tasks diligently and treats his associates well. He is totally confused by the remaining halls of an old bureaucracy and alienated from the careless manners of the peoples of the surviving order.
Marat the chauffeur is not a lazy, undisciplined and inefficient worker. On the contrary, he is a loyal hard-working human being. He is moderately content, apparently satisfied that he has a position and security, proud of his family and the apartment he owns. His troubles could not have occurred in the former Soviet Union. The car repairs and medical bills would have been subsidized.
The researcher and Marat cannot adapt to the abrupt changes in their lives. Research has no immediate profit. It has been replaced by money that pursues money. The social cushions that buffered their lives from excessive tragedy have been replaced by personal initiatives that yield daily collisions in the traffic of human endeavor. The two persons are doomed. They had followed basic rules, not demanded too much, and not take advantage of others. They cannot adjust to a new society that is lawless, pushes aside those who don't demand, and promotes those who take advantage of others. They are powerless against the criminally powerful.
The researcher is the first person to fall. He goes easily. His age, his profession and his convictions are of little use in the new society. Marat's laconic and almost depressing manner indicate he understands he is doomed. He is resigned but more stoic. By not shaking the hands of the man who had sent his cohorts to pound him, Marat rejects any accord with the new Kazahkistan. The social and psychological circumstances that formed Marat under Soviet society conflict with the social and psychological make-up of a disintegrated society. In a short time, he loses all he cherishes and finally his own life.
The villains of the film are those who engineered the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union. They did not consider the socio-psychological factors that had shaped the minds, actions and reactions of the generations of the Soviet masses. They did not consider that change requires adaptation and people cannot quickly adapt.
Rather than exploding to an impressive form dictated by its masses, the Soviet Union imploded to a nebulous form dictated by a small elite that had outside support. Russia and the ex-republic of Kazahkistan are depicted as feudal regimes with highway men accosting travelers and criminal gangs, similar to the medieval princes and dukes, who controlled and manipulated public life. The "new" society transforms ordinary citizens into killers and brings disillusionment and death to those who act in good faith.
In a modest film, director Darezhan Omirbaev produces rich thoughts that are not apparent in conventional media. The film deserves attention and wider circulation.
july 16, 2002
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