Historical take two
How old is Kazakhstan? In 2014 Vladimir Putin, fresh from annexing Crimea, outraged Kazakhs by dismissing their history as dating only from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now they have retaliated with a historical epic showcasing Kazakhstan’s illustrious past. Rustem Abdrashev’s “Almas Kylysh” (The Diamond Sword) is wowing cinema-goers with the tale of swashbuckling heroes Zhanibek and Kerey vanquishing foes to found the Kazakh Khanate. Romanticised and historically dubious? Perhaps. But Kazakhstan, under Russia’s yoke for nearly 300 years, celebrates this story as the genesis of its statehood. The Khanate was founded in 1465, so Kazakhstan turns not 26 this year, but 552.
Take a long hard look
In the run-up to the most divisive election in years, the documentary “Wit is ook een kleur” (White is also a colour) by Sunny Bergman has been sparking difficult conversations in the Netherlands. It asks why highly educated, supposedly liberal white people often respond so defensively to questions of racism and privilege. But as well as prompting many white families to broach the subject of race, Bergman has been the target of ugly nationalist rants flooding social media. A clearer picture of the polarised state of the nation would be hard to find.
The power of pop
Across the 187 inhabited islands of the Maldives, Twitter parties have resumed for the smallest edition of the global Pop Idol franchise. “Maldivian Idol” first swept the atolls last year, temporarily uniting a 400,000-strong Islamic nation riven by years of political feuding. Politicians still tried to get in on the action – the winner received congratulations from all the ailing democracy’s recent presidents, even those in exile overseas. With the repeatedly delayed local elections now scheduled a few weeks from the grand finale on April 30th, politics and pop idols will cross paths again.
Sex and the city
“In Between” is a film about three ordinary women living in Tel Aviv, Israel’s coastal liberal hub with more than its fair share of sex, drugs and parties. But the women are young Arab Israelis from the Muslim-majority cities of Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm. Alienated from their more conservative hometowns, they never fully belong in the overwhelmingly Jewish metropolis either (the film’s Hebrew title translates as “Neither Here Nor There”). It has won awards from Toronto to Haifa and Arab Israelis have flocked to screenings, praising its portrayal of their complex realities. But Umm al-Fahm’s city council has called for it to be boycotted for “insulting Islam”.
Hope strikes eternal
“Guerrero” (Warrior) traces the early life of Paolo Guerrero Gonzales, captain of Peru’s national football team. He’s its all-time top scorer and the only Peruvian ever nominated for FIFA’s coveted Ballon d’Or award. The film’s young star (above) was selected via reality TV from more than 5,000 hopefuls. In a country mad about the beautiful game, “Guerrero” has been a sure-fire hit. But Peru has not played in a World Cup since 1982 and its chance at Russia 2018 appears to be slipping away. At least the runaway success of the film, produced by Tondero, a local company, points to a rosier future for Peruvian cinema.
Third eye blind
After years of disappointment, Bulgaria has been bathing in the glory of its first Oscar nomination. Strictly speaking, the eight-minute animated short, “Blind Vaysha” (above), is a Canadian production, but it is the creation of Bulgarian animator Teodor Ushev, adapted from a short story by another prominent Bulgarian, poet and playwright Georgi Gospodinov, and scored by their compatriot Kottarashky. Little Vaysha is blind because her left eye can see only the past, while her right sees only the future. Her plight has unsettled audiences who see in it their country’s own dilemma: a proud EU member haunted by its communist past, a nation of emigrants hostile to refugees, dreaming of prosperity but fearful of the future.
Grappling with stereotypes
The new highest-grossing film in the history of Bollywood is not what you expect. Based on a true story, “Dangal” (a wrestling bout) follows two sisters in rural India whose father, not blessed with sons, decides to train them to become world-champion wrestlers. Few things get Indian audiences’ hearts racing like a good sports film, but “Dangal” also comes at a time when Indian sportswomen have far outshone their male counterparts, bringing home both Indian medals from last year’s Olympics, including one in wrestling. “Girls saved our faces” was the common refrain after the country’s otherwise dismal performance. In the closing minutes of the film, as the older sister triumphs against all odds, the national anthem has brought audiences across India to their feet in spontaneous mass standing ovations.