New York Asian Film Festival ‣ Жаным, Ты Не Поверишь

The 20th Anniversary New York Asian Film Festival takes place August 6th through August 22nd both with both virtual and in-person screenings. Go to nyaff.org for more details.

Sometimes the trick to enjoying a movie at a festival is the simple act of forgetting what even caught your interest about it in the first place.

That works doubly well when a movie has a title as innocuous sounding as the sole festival entry from Kazakhstan, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It, which when It came up in my schedule I assumed was some kind of goofy romantic comedy.

It…is definitely not that.

This happens to be my first experience with the cinema of Kazakhstan, and it’s a decidedly… interesting introduction. There’s not much in the way of their films that have crossed the international border, and what has been available in the west appears to lean heavily towards the historical drama genre. So, just in itself as a piece of broad modern comedy, it reveals itself to be a fascinating document from a cultural perspective.

Granted, there doesn’t seem to be much meat on the bone thematically; unless I’m missing certain cultural signifiers (always a possibility), this is little more than the onslaught of broad as a barn gags and gruesome kills it seems to be on the surface. But as directed by Yernar Nurgaliyev, it gets the down and dirty job done with a certain grody efficiency.

Not knowing where the film was going, there was a palpable tension in the opening minutes, which follows Das as he run errands while arguing with his very pregnant wife about his inability to pick a name. Beset with financial difficulties and a clearly simmering rage, all signs point to this being the story of a henpecked man exploding in a fury of toxic masculine rage.

So it was with a mild sense of relief that all this was merely the setup to him escaping with his friends for a weekend fishing trip in a desperate attempt to get a moment’s peace.

The movie certainly has an interest in macho codes of behavior, though it doesn’t have much original to say on the subject: Das’s friends Arman and Murat are equally concerned with bro codes and what it’s like to be a “real man”; Arman has a successful business selling sex toys online and Murat is a police officer who isn’t quite hateful enough to be a full-on incel but definitely has some outdated ideas about gender dynamics. (The film gets a lot of mileage out of the visual gag of Arman’s collection of defective blow-up dolls, including one that garners one of the biggest, most unexpected laughs in the entire picture).

Of course, it is a rule of cinema that if there is a fishing trip between buds, inevitably, that trip will involve witnessing a murder and having to go on the run from the murderers. And in some ways, it’s comforting to know that’s a constant across international borders.

The gang in question is a cartoonish bunch, and equally concerned with their own masculinity in their separate ways, from the overweight softy whose passing out at the first sign of blood gets a thorough workout, to the posturing would be tough guy who seems like he’s going to be all talk but becomes increasingly trigger happy over the course of events.

A showdown between these two groups of morons would seem to be a zero sum game, but then the film springs its wildest twist… which, not to go too far into the realm of spoilers, doesn’t so much act as a twist but an utterly inexplicable left of field swerve that swaps genres like the writer got bored.

(Cast credits were very hard to come by so unfortunately I can’t give credit where credit is due to the actor behind the character I’m at pains to not reveal; but his silent, extremely physical performance is by far the highlight of the film)

All that said… it’s not like there’s much to spoil, honestly. In terms of story and character, there isn’t actually all that much happening. The movie is a brisk 85 minutes, and it never really lingers on anything long enough to stick… nor, do I think, does it intend to. At heart, it’s a mean spirited blast of black comedy (that makes a half-assed stab towards sentiment at the very end, which falls pretty flat) and when it sticks to that mode, the movie just works.

Probably not going to do a Hell of a lot as far as encouraging Kazakh tourism goes, though…


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