From our friends at Siskel Film Center:
“If there is a giant who sits astride the history of Uzbek cinema, it’s Ali Khamraev, one of those rare talents like Welles or Godard or Scorsese whose love for the medium is so intense that his best films burst with criss-crossing energies and insights, like a fireworks display.”—Kent Jones, Film Comment
From February 12 through March 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center, in collaboration with Seagull Films, presents Uzbek Rhapsody: The Films of Ali Khamraev, a series of eight rarely seen films shown in 35mm prints specially imported from Russia and Central Asia for this touring retrospective.
This series highlights the work not only of an overlooked director but also of a rich and under-explored frontier on the cinematic map. The cinema of the Central Asian Soviet republics–sometimes referred to as “the ‘stans”–began to emerge from the shadow of the USSR in the 1960s, with the decline of Stalinist orthodoxy and increased investment in regional film industries. In recent years, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Central Asian cinema has come even more sharply into focus, with the growing recognition of distinct filmmaking traditions in each of its nations, and of a group of major filmmakers ripe for discovery in the west, including Tolomush Okeev of Kyrgyzstan, Darezhan Omirbaev and Ardak Amirkulov of Kazakhstan, and, preeminently, Ali Khamraev of Uzbekistan.
Born in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in 1937, Khamraev made his directing debut in 1964 and first attracted critical attention with the 1966 adultery drama WHITE, WHITE STORKS (playing Feb. 12 & 14). He achieved popular success in the late 1960s and 1970s with a series of action films set in Central Asia during the civil wars of 1920s: RED SANDS (1969), THE EXTRAORDINARY COMMISAR (1970), THE BODYGUARD (1979, playing Feb. 19 & 24), and his biggest hit, THE SEVENTH BULLET (1972, playing Feb. 26 & 28). Resembling American and spaghetti westerns, these films deftly mix ideological issues with superb action scenes and stunning landscapes. As critic Olaf Möller (Film Comment) notes, “Khamraev is a born storyteller…a Genghis Khan-ian giant of genre filmmaking.”
Khamraev also began expanding his range, becoming “a director of extraordinary versatility” (Peter Rollberg, Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema). MAN FOLLOWS BIRDS (1975, playing Feb. 12 & 16), perhaps his most acclaimed film, is a phantasmagoric medieval odyssey that evokes Paradjanov and Tarkovsky (the latter both an inspiration and a personal friend). There are strong autobiographical elements in his period pieces TRIPTYCH (1979, playing Feb. 19 & 21) and I REMEMBER YOU (1986, playing Feb. 20 & 23). Khamraev also directed musicals, documentaries, and historical epics. Recurring themes in his films include the oppression of women (most strongly exemplified by 1971’s WITHOUT FEAR, playing Feb. 13 & 17) and the conflict between traditional and progressive forces. In the 1990s, Khamraev relocated to Italy; the offbeat sexual parable BO BA BU (1998, playing Feb. 26 & Mar. 3), his only film completed during this period, was a focus of controversy at several international film festivals. In 2004 he returned to Russia, where he has directed television miniseries.
This project is organized by Seagull Films in collaboration with Mardjani Foundation. Special thanks to Alla Verlotsky of Seagull Films.
MAN FOLLOWS BIRDS (CHELOVEK UKHODIT ZA PTITSAMI) 1975, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Uzbekistan, 87 min.With Dzhanik Faiziyev, Dilorom Kambarova
WHITE, WHITE STORKS (BELIYE, BELIYE AISTI) 1966, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Uzbekistan, 82 min.With Lyutfi Sarymsakova, Sairam Isayeva
WITHOUT FEAR (BEZ STRAKHA) 1971, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Uzbekistan, 96 min.
THE BODYGUARD (TELOKHRANITEL) 1979, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Tadzhikistan, 91 min. With Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Gulya Tashbayeva
TRIPTYCH (TRIPTIKH) 1979, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Uzbekistan, 76 min. With Dilorom Kambarova, Gulya Tashbayeva
I REMEMBER YOU (YA TEBYA POMNYU) 1985, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Uzbekistan, 92 min. With Vyacheslav Bogachyov, Zinaida Sharko
THE SEVENTH BULLET (SEDYMAYA PULYA) 1972, Ali Khamraev, USSR/Uzbekistan, 84 min. With Suimenkul Chokmorov, Dilorom Kambarova
BO BA BU 1998, Ali Khamraev, Uzbekistan/Italy/France, 82 min. With Arielle Dombasle, Abdrashid Abdrakhmanov