The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). I’m delighted that this prompted Adilkhan Yerzhanov to send me a very kind email along with a fresh link to his film. — J.R.
I’ve seen Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners (2014) only once, and if I dwell on my inability to see it a second time for this review, this is only to pay tribute to the issues and complications of ownership, which are so basic to the film’s universal relevance.
One year ago, I wrote the following as part of my bimonthly column for the Spanish film magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine: “12 June (Chicago): As preparation for serving as a ‘mentor’ to student film critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I watch online a film they’re assigned to write about, Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners from Kazakhstan. This is quite a revelation — at least for me, if not, as I later discover, for most of the students. Three city siblings arrive in the county to claim the ramshackle hut they’ve inherited from their deceased mother, and the tragicomic misadventures and forms of corruption that they encounter oscillate between grim realism, absurdist genre parody, and dreamlike surrealism, culminating in a doom-ridden yet festive dance in which both victims and victimizers participate….Yerzhanov’s use of genre staples actually expands his expressive and emotional palette without foreshortening our sense of the people involved.”
In my efforts to take residence in the film a second time, a year later, I subscribe to the online service FestivalScope.com and contact the film’s owners through this site to gain permission to watch this film again for this review. They grant me permission, but once I try to access their link, my screen immediately skips ahead to the film’s closing credits; I receive a message informing me that I can rewatch the film only once, and according to their automated misinformation, I’ve already done so.
In short, it’s an absurdist dance for the owners of The Owners as well as for me, and one that seems entirely appropriate to the film’s tragicomic vision of the way the world works. So let me conclude with an apt statement by the director: “The film I shot is an expression of everyday reality through the alembic of absurd, inspired by the pictorial art of Van Gogh. The combination of a brutal reality and childish happiness – this is the film language that doesn’t simply decorate the film but also comprises its philosophy: I strived to convey the idea not only through the plot of the film but also its aesthetics, and the form of the cinematography.”