Close Up

3 - 5 January 2018: Uzbek Rhapsody: The Films of Ali Khamraev


Curated by Herb Shellenberger and following the first UK retrospective of Uzbek filmmaker Ali Khamraev at the 2017 Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, Close-Up presents this series of 35mm screenings in London.

Born in 1937, Khamraev is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of the Central Asian and Soviet cinemas. Throughout his illustrious career, Khamraev has explored a plethora of genres freely, variously showcasing a mastery of invigorating action sequences, visually-striking poetic passages, incisive documentary observations and socially-engaged drama, often mixing these forms within the space of a single film. His profound relationships with contemporaries like Sergei Parajanov, Kira Muratova and Michelangelo Antonioni have shaped his filmmaking, and he has made films not only in his native Uzbekistan but also in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Russia. Though Khamraev has directed over 20 feature films and 40 documentaries, none of his work is currently available on DVD. This series provides an exceedingly rare chance to see the work of Ali Khamraev, a master Central Asian filmmaker, shown from his personal 35mm prints. 

Curated by Herb Shellenberger, who will introduce each screening.

Man Follows Birds
Ali Khamraev
1975 | 87 min | Colour | 35mm

Perhaps Khamraev’s masterpiece, Man Follows Birds is a baroque coming-of-age tale set in medieval Uzbekistan. The film follows the young and idealistic Farukh as he comforts his alcoholic father, has visions of his deceased mother and dreams of love with the beautiful Amandyra. Deeply poetic visuals are enhanced by the work of master Ukrainian cinematographer Yuriy Klimenko, who would go on to shoot some of the most visually-engaging films in Soviet and Russian cinema like Parajanov’s Legend of Suram Fortress, Sergey Solovyov’s Black Rose is an Emblem of Sorrow, Red Rose is an Emblem of Love and Aleksey German’s Hard to be a God. Khamraev’s masterful hand guides Farukh and his companions on an utterly unique road film poignantly punctuated by Rumil Vildanov’s score, at turns lushly orchestral in the Morricone register, and in other spots containing only sparse synthesizer flourishes. The journey ends up bringing Farukh back to where he started, his loss of innocence coming at the expense of a great adventure. read more

The Bodyguard
Ali Khamraev
1979 | 90 min | Colour | 35mm

The Bodyguard portrays the Basmachi rebellion, which saw the Muslims of Central Asia rise up against the Red Army in the years following the Russian Revolution of October 1917. With lead actors on loan from Tarkovsky (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy from Stalker and Anatoliy Solonitsyn from Andrei Rublev), Khamraev made a return to the “Red Western” action films which gave him popular success a decade prior. Soviet takes on the American Old West, “Red Westerns” transposed gun-slinging, allegorical action-dramas to the Central Asian landscape. Buoyed by the quasi-Krautrock score of composer Eduard Artemyev (Stalker, Solaris), The Bodyguard follows its characters through the arid, rocky steppes and snow-capped mountains of Tajikstan, where grizzled mountain trapper Mirzo (Kaydanovskiy) is escorting captured Basmachi leader Sultan Nazar (Solonitsyn) to a faraway province. On this epic journey, they are trailed steps behind by Fattobeck, the harsh new leader of the Basmachis who is aiming to recover the Sultan and crush the Red Army contingent at any cost. read more

I Remember You
Ali Khamraev
1985 | 92 min | Colour | 35mm

I Remember You follows protagonist Kim across the Soviet Union at the wishes of his dying mother to visit his father’s grave. Khamraev’s father died fighting the Germans in 1942 and I Remember You is based on a journey he made to the Smolensk region of Russia in 1973. Along the way, memories are triggered which take Kim back to his childhood, transporting him from modern Soviet Russia back to Samarkand, a beautiful Silk Road city containing sumptuous classical Muslim architecture. These surreal, Fellini-esque visions are triggered by sights and sounds, creating psychedelic shifts in time and space quite unexpectedly. When Kim hears someone on the train singing with a dutar – a traditional two-stringed Central Asian instrument – he meets and falls in love with Gulya, ably performed by Gulya Tashbaeva, Khamraev’s wife and featured player in several of his best films. After these refracted visions – from new wave mannequins who come to life to a group of young nude boys playing by a river –all come to pass, the film concludes with Khamraev himself walking out of the soundstage, closing the door on his most personal film. read more

With thanks to Ali Khameraev and Herb Shellenberger for making this programme possible.