The Song of the Tree (2018)**** Talinn Black Nights 2018

November 26th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Aibek Daiyrbekov | Musical Drama | 93′ | Kyrgyzstan

THE SONG OF THE TREE is an ambitiously mounted and sumptuously vivid love story: about a people’s everlasting love for the homeland, and a woman’s ardent love for a man. Based on real and mythical stories passed down from one generation to another, it is also Kyrgyzstan’s first musical film, set and filmed in this magnificent scenic country.

It follows the story of a feisty young man (Esen,Omurbek Izrailov)) who falls foul of his mountain community over time old issue of honour, after stealing some meat, which leads to the felling of a secret tree. Humiliated, he decides to leave with his love Begimai (Saltanat Bakaeva) but after they are  intercepted, the lovesick loner becomes hellbent on revenge. 

The musical elements embellish the nomadic narrative rather than driving it forward, the songs are gracefully performed and, despite subtitles, the story more or less tells itself pictorially to those who hate reading the bottom line. And there’s plenty here to enjoy. Filmmaker Aibek Daiyrbekov tells his tale against the stunning widescreen backdrop of the Tien Shan range of mountains. But there is an intimacy to the story that retains our interest throughout and this often involves a singing vignette in the foreground.

Set during the 1800s the film really conveys the stridence and casual violence of these exotic people who think nothing of whipping their adversaries savagely and pulling out daggers, without a ‘by your leave’. There are some spectacular chase scenes on horseback – one in particular sees a horse roll over and over down a sandy valley. Daiyrbekov keeps our attention on the lovers story (despite the odd subplot) and this eventually culminates in a face-off between between Esen and Oguz (Jurduzbek Kaseivov), the man who cut down the tree and murdered his brother.

There’s nothing particularly unique about the plot line but Daiyrbekov’s directing and mise en scene and Akzhol Bekbolotov’s camerawork is absolutely glorious and visually exquisite. Meanwhile Zholdoshbek Apasov’s compositions and use of local instruments give the film a lyrical quality that adds to its enjoyment. With a modest running time of 93 minutes, this is a worthwhile addition to Kyrgyzstan contemporary cinema. MT

SCREENING DURING TALINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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