Marat Surulu’s The Move, a rare film festival entry for the nation of Kyrgyzstan, is a laborious, meditative, and plodding film. Though the sedating tendencies of its pace stymie the easy enjoyment of the nearly three hour epic, The Move will crawl into one’s senses as Surulu hypnotizes the viewer with beautiful cinematography. The mise-en-scene of the film is persistently immaculate. From the rural lake house to the industrial te rural locales are bleakly shot in a faded, glumly pale lighting. The pace is methodologically sluggish with the characters stiffly walking like robots across the screen. They seem to be synchronized to a tempo a few measures slower than the cadence of regular life. At one point, near the film’s end, the central mother solicits her ailing, depressed aunt to take in her daughter. The elder aunt declines the request, no longer fit for care-taking. But the aunt does thank the young mother for making a visit and “refreshing her brain.” The two woman have barely spoken a word or engaged with any emotional or intellectual resonance. The blaring contrast between the stimuli and the stimulation make the aunt’s cognitive gratification all the more profound: in the dreary rural setting, the most bland encounter or short interval of human companionship can bring temporary salvation from the steady monotony of relentless isolation. Life in rural Kyrgyzstan moves slower and is more reticent than most modernized worlds. The stiffness, the apathy is indicative of the sensibility of the place where the smallest gossip can flutter vitality, a specter of life.
The Move is about drifting and evolving to new worlds. The plot premise is simple and revolves around three characters: a mother, her daughter, and a grandfather / father of the two. The mother persuades her father and her daughter, who live together, to move to the city with her but fiscal problems hinder the transitional success of the family. The character’s personalities are primarily echoed in the surroundings and the film’s sensitive cinematography. There is no shortage of wonderfully ambient shots in The Move: the red hues of a Chinese restaurant the mother works within, the reeds undulating underwater in a strong current, trash bags littered around the railway station. During some spans it feels like the characters become too subordinate to the Surul’s pristine compositions, reduced to mere objects in a tableau. Wonderful multilayered images in which a character stares out a window, showing both a sprawling landscape in the reflection and the industrial or domestic details in the background of the character, become stronger than the scenes narrative momentum and thus shed the story altogether. It feels as if the symmetry and the beautiful lines of the image are abundantly privileged to the characters subjective realism.
The strongest aspect of the film, besides the strong compositions, is the sonic ambiance and use of natural sounds. The whistling wind and a creaking door contrast with piercing clarity. The dichotomy of man-made turbulence from cars and factories in juxtaposition to the squeal of a natural gale becomes haunting and riveting. Industrial equipment becomes vilified by its shrilling and ungodly dissonance. Car engines, and industrial noises become grating: abrasive devices of sonic torture amidst the otherwise tranquil quietude. Sometimes a character will hum, or a noise will ominously repeat itself at intermittent moments without ever materializing in the narrative. The world of the film is so spartan, so minimal that the sounds accentuate: the sensory teems within the static simplicity. It is ironic to think of a film called The Move as inert but in many ways the film is paradoxically still and yet hyperactive. It requires the viewer to become receptive to the subtle motility of noise, gesture, and affect that underlie and invigorate a lull. The circulation of shadows on a train cabin’s wooden seats or the way wind crests white glimmering patterns atop the water become phenomena of nature’s invisible atmospheres made tangible in The Move. Such delicate observations would fall dormant, or be drowned out by more immediate stimulation of a thriller or drama, but Surulu makes the background milieu the film’s foreground.
Even the stripped and bare aesthetics of the common Kyrgyzstan home, so vacant that everything can be packed in a single suitcase, allows the eye to become fixated on minutia. The Grecan shades of baby blue paint on the furniture. The drab suitcase and wooden table with a single candle. The jar with a fish swimming around. A spread of food including raw sugar tablets and small candies. The brief festive gatherings in which Kyrgyzstan citizens are shown convening and socializing are also muted, even bizarrely somber. The Kyrgyzstan actors speak throughout The Move with a neutralized directness and sobriety. A man will offer a strange accordion medley and all will listen attentively but without a stir of emotion. Stilted, monotone conversations become increasingly enigmatic. I couldn’t figure whether the actors were either overacting their subdued facade or the people of Kyrgyzstan share a world-affect of scrupulously morose stoicism. Most scenes toward the end of the film show the mother and daughter traversing by foot from one acquaintance to the next in a pilgrimage to find a caretaker for the young girl. They often trek in the opposite direction of droves of goats, or cows. On a lake shore, nearby a herd of cows, the mother has a moment of excruciating sorrow and slowly walks into the icy waters to wail. The cryptic source of the cry is initially ambiguous until the camera shows the daughter’s face which is bereft of tears. Only by process of elimination does the viewer realize the cry is from the mother.
The final act of the film inevitably leads to the tragic cleaving of the mother, grandfather and daughter from one another because of economic troubles. The daughter ends up with a shaved head and living in a frigid boarding school. The father / grandfather is put into a retirement shelter, and the mother migrates to Russia to try to make money. The sole blatant symbol in the otherwise sensitive film is the girl’s goldfish. In a late scene at the boarding school the fish is taken by the master and thrown into a murky fish-tank with others. The moment signifies too literally the trade-off of a lonely clean bowl for a muddied tank. The fishes new habitat too easily parallels the girl’s move from a rural and idyllic yet reclusive lifestyle with her grandfather to the anonymity and bleak collectivism of a boarding school in the city.
Never straying from its reverence to the slow tempo and the gorgeous superimposed shots of architectures and geological landscapes into intricate patterns, The Move remains ever loyal to the belief of stimulating with scarcity. The camera is audaciously unnerving in its immobility. It is meticulously attuned to the moods of an image, the articulations of light and shadow. In one shot the temporal and temperamental shifts of natural light itself becomes the object of the camera: Surulu bravely lingers with an unedited shot of a dilapidated apartment complex as clouds slowly dim the sunlight on the surface of the building. The result of such astuteness is mesmeric, even psychedelic in relaying a sumptuous sense of non-time, or time that distends by its absence of interactivity. The degree to which Surulu’s The Move can be enjoyed wagers largely on the capacity of the viewer to synchronize with these diaphanous qualities and latent intensities, to instill thought into the creeping transience of what initially seems to be cinematic immobility. It is not an average or ordinary ephemeral type of entertainment: the film and its characters flow with a viscosity that tests the will of the audience, but rewards those who endure the languishing honesty of a setting it staunchly remains loyal to.