Atirkül in the Land of Real Men (2023) IDFA 2023

October 26th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Janyl Jusupjan | With: Atirkül Arzyldabekova, Arzyldabekova Abish, Arzyldabekova Samat, Bayaman Salimbek uulu | France / Czech Republic / Kyrgyzstan, 2023, 65 min.

In the spectacular landscapes of Kyrgyzstan where – apparently- “real” men hold sway, a fervent woman challenges their male prowess with her own particular brand of female empowerment.

Atirkül, a horse lover, is keen to preserve Kyrgyzstani heritage with the local sport of ‘buzkashi’. And to this end she has gathered together a group of men who excel in the ‘all-male’ daredevil horse-back pastime with time-honoured tradition.

Atirkül in the Land of Real Men joins a fascinating series of ethnographic docs and docudramas from the region that include the recent Song of the Tree and The Eagle Huntress. In this neck of the woods enterprising women continue to challenge gender roles and overcome unconscious bias, and are every bit as powerful in their endeavours, perhaps even more so, than their male counterparts.

The game itself is certainly dangerous for both horses and riders. To the outsider, buzkashi looks a bit like a rough and tumble version of polo with a dead goat (!) serving as the ball. Players try to wrestle the inanimate corpse from the rival team of riders while staying on horseback – and this, like polo, requires strong core muscles and powerful legs. Members of the team are seen struggling through the icy snowscapes to join the others, and practising swooping down to pick up the dead goat. A great deal of cut of thrust is involved in getting hold of the goat in a rugby-style scrum as horses and men pitch in fearlessly. Atirkül is campaigning to get bigger more powerful horses for her team but her plans are put on hold due to financing issues: the riders have to earn their living too, and take time out in Russia where they find gainful employment in the menial sector.

Clearly Atirkül’s strength lies in her mouth: her negotiating ability and spirited sense of humour certainly makes up for what she lacks in the physical department. Her enjoyment comes from the buzz of horse-trading, honed during her previous career as an importer and seller of Chinese goods, as she gradually builds an indomitable team.

And there’s seemingly no end to this gutsy woman’s day. After hours in her home village of Jaylgan (Tajikistan) we see her badgering one of her sons to get married. Never taking herself too seriously – another incident sees her grappling with a garden swing that collapses when she tries to sit down for a moment of well-earned rest.  Life is tough in Kyrgyzstan, and even more so for women. Twas every thus!. MT



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