Dir: Nariman Aliev. Ukraine 97 mins
Nariman Aliev’s feature debut is a powerful cri de coeur for his homeland Crimea exploring the fractured relationship between Ukraine and Russia. The young director is only in his mid twenties but already manages his material with confidence and maturity to create a gripping and thoughtful story about family responsibility and the ties that bind.
Mustafa (Akhtem Seitablayev) has driven to Kiev to collect the body of his son who has been killed in the war with Russia. His mission is simple, to bury Nazim in the family’s home in Crimea. But the journey will be eventful and fraught with difficulty. It will also bring him closer to his teenage son Alim (Remzi Bilyalov), who joins him on the journey.
And the two are not on great terms. Mustafa is an aggressive disciplinarian father who doesn’t pull any punches, least of all with his youngest boy. His simmering rage is partly due to the needlessness of Nazim’s death – in his eyes – marrying a non Muslim woman Olesya (Dariya Barihashvilli) he set up home in Ukraine, and clearly Mustafa was never going to approve of the match.Mustafa’s intention was to leave the family farm in Crimea to his boys so clearly his nose has been put out of joint with this marriage. To make matters worse, the two have a violent confrontation when he refuses to include Olesya in the funeral arrangements, leaving her locked in her own bathroom, oblivious to her feelings, or even her survival. This mere act displays an extraordinary disregard for his late son’s wishes, and makes a broad reference to his misogynist tendencies which will again rear their head later on. The British phrase “a bit of a Tartar” certainly comes to mind with this implacable man.
Alim has also made plans that don’t involve returning to the family farm. On the drive through Kiev he points out the university where he is studying journalism and his father remains stony-faced refusing show any interest. The journey continues with the usual checkpoints and border controls and Mustafa is truculent and surly with local officials. He then gives Alim a crash course in how to defend himself with a knife and this comes in handy later on when they are robbed, and Alim is able to gain his father’s grudging respect.
Akhtem Seitablayev manages shows us a chink of humanity in Mustafa – clearly he loves his son, and death often brings out the worst in family dynamics. Alim evidently respects his father, and is totally under his thumbl: when the boy gets a chance to swim in the river with some locals, including an attractive blond girl, Mustafa later slams down his wallet on the dinner table and suggests Alim goes his own way. This is a man who has lived by his wits and his courage and we feel a strange respect for him, and his desperation to keep the family together.
Homeward is a film that looks stunning and has that extraordinary resonance of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s work. Anton Fursa captures the burning sunset and the bucolic pastures of the vast flat landscape with its wide dusty roads and fast flowing rivers that really evoke that sense of belonging for Mustafa and his family have fought for. MT
New Wave Films digital release from 23 April 2021 | PREMIERED CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | UN CERTAIN REGARD 2019