A Film a Week - The Road to Eden / Akyrky koch

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

The world revolving around the rat race for the material goods and carnal pleasures could not possibly stand heroes. Even goodness and humaneness is under a huge question mark, as it seems useless and foolish. An old, retired writer just wants to help in Bakyt Mukul’s and Dastan Zhapar Uulu’s second feature film “The Road to Eden” that competed at Tallinn Black Nights.

When we first meet Kurbat Aliev (Marat Alyshpaev, also one of the stars of Mukul’s and Uulu’s previous movie “A Father’s Will”), he seems like a regular retiree, a man of few words who just wants to spend his autumn years in peace that he deserved. His apartment is located in a brutalist building from the Soviet times in a residential area of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, his furniture and appliances are probably also from the same period, and so is the memorabilia. The only thing that gives him away as a writer is a typewriter on the desk in his living-room. He clearly comes from another world.

Kurbat asks his only relative, his nephew Tilek (one of the directors of the film, Bakyt Mukul, otherwise an actor by trade) to help him with an errand: to drive him to the outskirts so he could visit his friend and protégé Sapar (Busurman Odurakaev), who is seriously ill. Sapar needs money for a treatment abroad and Kurbat is willing to help, even for the price that he has to sell his own apartment and move to the retirement home. He enlists Tilek’s help one more time in order to sell the flat, but, unlike Kurbat, Tilek is the man of the present: quite materialistic, greedy and even sleazy. Tilek will have one final chance to make up for his trespasses against his uncle, who is, amongst the people of his own generation, considered to be a national treasure of sorts.

Although the story consists merely of a string of the low-intensity events, Mukul’s and Uulu’s approach is filled with a clear sense of the purpose and the details. The biggest “revelations” and twists are phoned early on, and the social criticism the filmmaking duo opts for is not of the subtlest kind, but at least they take their time and observe the rich tapestry of the customs, the displays of respect and the changes in the Kirghiz society. The filmmakers are equally subtle when it comes to weaving the network of personal relations, where all the characters get some due respect. Even Tilek, who would be a cardboard villain in some other movie, is someone who genuinely cares for his uncle and the memory of him, despite his questionable choices.

Acting-wise, Marat Alyshpaev simply shines as Kurbat, a decent old man who gave everything he had without asking any of it back. There are some mannerisms in the way he plays his character, more obvious in the second half of the film, but those unnecessary “hints” are not a real problem. Bakyt Mukul is more prone to flat, declamatory line delivery (typical for Central-Asian cinema, still influenced by the theatre style of acting), but he is compelling in the scenes where he has to “sell” his character as a simple, common man.

On the technical level, “The Road to Eden” is nothing short of marvellous. Dastan Zhapar Uulu’s camerawork in a very wide aspect ratio and in shades of grey-type of black and white is simply beautiful, especially when it has to highlight the perfect composition of the frames. Uulu likes to film in longer takes and wider angles, but he and Mukul are not religious about that either. The pace of the film is perfectly measured and the feeling of the continuity is never questioned, thanks to Aktan Ryskeldiev’s editing.

The Road to Eden” is essentially a film about humaneness and the need for it. Although it has no real “thrills”, its heart is at the right place, while the execution is spot on. It should travel festivals.


  1. And what is the connection to Vincent Van Gogh?

  2. On the narrative level, there is no connection. It is the directors' stylistic choice to recreate the visuals from the paintings (this is not the only one) and to fit them into the narrative about the semi-forgotten artist that had the status of the genuine national treasure in not so distant past.