Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Life and death in the aftermath

The film begins unremarkably enough. A young man is lying on the bed. And then he arises. Meanwhile a young woman is frying eggs.

We have only eight minutes to learn who these people are and about the heavy gloom that weighs on them. And yet, in that short amount of time, this deliberately paced and naturalistic film gives us a full and tragic story.

The film I am talking about is called Akibet, which is Turkish for Aftermath. Since I know absolutely nothing about the Turkish language, I consulted the sometimes-not-misleading Google Translate, which told me that another translation would Fate. That may or may not be significant.

The writer/director is Tofic Rzayev, who hails from Azerbaijan. (English subtitles were written by Erdogan Ulgur.) That makes this the first film by an Azerbaijani I have ever seen, which actually says more about me than it does about Azerbaijan. As it happens, that country was one of the first to have a film industry following the pioneering work of France’s Lumière brothers, with an early film camera showing up in the capital Baku in 1898. In recent years the country has turned out one or more feature films each year, including last year’s Absurdistan, an allegorical comedy about women declaring a sex strike in an isolated village. Perhaps the nation’s most internationally honored film figure is Rustam Ibragimbekov, who wrote the co-wrote the Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun with director Nikita Mikhalkov. (That film, I am happy to say, I did see.)

So I was intrigued and pleased when Rzayev invited me to view his film.

The first thing to say is that it is extremely well made. With only two actors and barely more than one location, it draws us in. We wonder who these two people are and why are they so obviously sad. We soon learn that they are a brother (brooding Berkan Uygun) and sister (desperate Gizem Aybike Sahin) who have recently lost their parents, although we do not know how or why. The brother seems to be taking the loss harder and is clearly consumed with bitterness. His sister puts on a brave face, but that may be deceptive.

The performances are completely natural and realistic. The music by Gergö Elekes is particularly effective. In such a brief amount of time, we come to know the characters and to care about them and to become invested in them. This makes the ending both unexpected and sad. It is easy to imagine this being expanded to feature length because we want to know more about the characters’ backstory and what led up to the point where we meet them. At the same time, though, the story is fully self-contained and does not feel, as with many short films, like a truncated version of the longer movie the filmmaker really wanted to make.

If my maths are right working with the dates mentioned on Rzayev’s bio page on IMDb, this filmmaker is a very young man. But the confidence and self-assuredness with which his film is made suggests a craftsman with many years of experience. The list of filmmakers he says have “hugely inspired” him is nothing if not an eclectic mix: Lars Von Trier, Christopher Nolan, Stanley Kubrick, Derek Cianfrance, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher and Nicolas Winding Refn.

On his IMDb bio page, Rzayev also writes that his “dream always has been having one of his films premier at the Sundance film festival ever since he got his first camera back in 2006.” Judging by Akibet, that does not seem entirely out of the question.

-S.L., 25 February 2015

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