Non-locality relief – Kommersant newspaper No. 84 (7285) dated 17/05/2022

Illegal by Yakut director Dmitry Davydov, who surpassed the limits of regional cinema in 2020, when his Scarecrow received the main Kinotavr award. In the new film, he opens another, not the most attractive, side of life of both the Saharan Republic and the whole of Russia. Says Julia Sagelman.

The main character in the picture, played by fourteen-year-old debutant Erzhan Dauletbekov, has a name – Nurbek, but even in the credits it is simply called “illegal”. Indeed, for the rest of the characters, and in the beginning for the audience, it lacks individuality: it is just one of the thousands of illegal immigrants who came to Russia to work, living many dozens of people in a miserable apartment, doing the hardest and dirtiest job ever. there is in the eternal fear of raids and deportation. Nurbek was transported from Kyrgyzstan not to Moscow or St. Petersburg, but to Yakutsk, but the lower part of the big city, seen through the eyes of an unjust foreigner, is the same everywhere and the refrain “come in large numbers here” to the Yakut language sounds no less often and no more friendly than in Russian.

With a police raid on some dark warehouses, or garages where illegal immigrants hide, the movie begins. There is a distinction here between the “clean” – those who have a Russian passport, and the “dirty”, who do not have the necessary documents. Nurbek is among the latter and must return to his homeland, but the problem is unexpectedly solved by the local Kyrgyz “authority” (Orozbek Amanbayev), who takes three of his compatriots for bribery to the police to use them as slaves. The boy speaks Russian better than others, so he gets a job as a salesman in the clothing market. Obediently, without raising his eyes, he follows the “power” and just as humbly gives the income at the end of the first working day to some kind of muzzle – though not what it should be, for which he receives a punch in the face from owner.

For the first twenty minutes, an intense social drama from the lives of the humbled and afflicted unfolds on screen, placing Illegal on par with, for example, Sergei Dvortsevoi’s Aika (2018) and Mikhail Borodin’s Products 24 (2022) . of immigrants for our cinema is still rare and exotic, but recently began to be heard, although at present only in the “festival” images of the author. Armenian organized crime groups against Kyrgyzstan, the police against everyone and the stupid hard workers who do not know Russian well as consumables – this is the reality of Dmitry Davidov’s film, which was skillfully filmed with a hand-held camera. Even a sudden exchange of gunfire is not so much a bold film about robbers as a vague shot of a criminal chronicle.

After this fight, Nurbek is free and the image gradually changes color. Now this drama is not social, but existential – about the hero’s lonely path to a goal that is still unclear to the viewer, while some scenes of this drama would fit into a tough thriller. For some reason, an illegal immigrant has to reach a certain Mikhailovka, two hundred and fifty kilometers from Yakutsk, and start on the road – without money, food, with a fish-fur jacket and cheap sneakers that break down very quickly. He is still being chased and pushed away, but with each step along the track, which in some places is only guessed at by the spring mud, there are fewer people around. The main character of any Yakut movie comes in its own nature – nature, which has its own tough and unyielding character. The noises of the city are replaced by a quiet haunted hum, as if signaling the transition from one layer of reality to another.

If the action of Davydov’s previous film “Scarecrow” took place on the boundaries between the worlds of humans and spirits and the main character, a shaman, was a link between them, then “Illegal” remains a realistic picture. However, mysticism is still felt in the transparent rare air of local landscapes, which open to the screen when the hero erupts from the crowds and bustle of the city. A sacred tree decorated with ribbons is not some kind of ethnographic curiosity, it is part of everyday life and the passengers of the minibus, stopping for a short stop, put at its roots simple offers (cookies, small items, lighter). the same routine that treats fellow travelers with homemade pies. Is it a coincidence that thanks to such a tree, Nurbek meets an elderly hunter (Stepan Burnashev the Elder), who becomes the first person to accept him as his own? Or is the influence of forces more powerful than human?

Following the journey of an outlaw in Yakutia, it is easy to make generalizations in the spirit that we are all just guests in a foreign country, depending on the kindness of the foreigners. To Davydov’s credit, he remains extremely honest and precise in the details, and the metaphysical meanings of his paintings do not overshadow the details of very specific lives. Let it be as if a label has been stuck on every hero – “illegal”, “power”, “old man”, “father” – it is not so difficult to see living people behind them.

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