Enjoying plenty of local colour but little else, Goodbye, Southern City, a modest Azeri film noir shot entirely in Baku, will be limited to those interested in the region or expatriates. For others it will look like a sincere, heartfelt but misguided elegy of urban innocence lost. Lacking a solid storyline to fall back on, it may ultimately prove to be sadly insufficient, making it a hard sell under the best circumstances.
Baku, once a pearl of the Caspian Sea and the capital of Soviet oil, was submerged in conflict during the 1980s, after the eruption of fighting in Nagorny Karabach which pitted the ruling Azeris against the Armenian majority in the region.
Waves of refugees and immigrants changed the city's character and were held responsible, at least in the script, for turning a pleasant if chaotic city into a mafia fiefdom run by newcomers.
Alik (Timur Badalbeoly), the young unimpeachable local hero everyone likes and respects, stands for old Baku; Fariz (Fuad Polatov), the greedy refugee with a nasty look in his eyes, is the unscrupulous invader who will destroy the local fabric.
The object of the confrontation between the two is a basement, in which Alik's friends are rehearsing for a concert. Fariz wants to open a restaurant there and will use any intimidation, legal or not, to scare them away.
Set mostly in a large building, where tenants live as much in the vast inner courtyard as they do their own flats, the plot rambles from one neighbour to another, filling the screen with folksy characters who have little to contribute beyond colour.
It wastes more than a little time on incongruities including the inkling of a romance that leads nowhere, and never develops any part beyond a quickly drawn sketch. Most of the story is told in flashback, allowing the script to underline the changes which took place in Baku, in the time that elapsed between the eighties and the present.
Rustam Ibragimbekov, an experienced and prolific Russian writer who has worked extensively with Nikita Mikhalkov, is also one of the film's producers. He should have known better than to allow such a loose, tentative script to go into production.
Direction feels hesitant; the cutting does not make much sense most of the time and camerawork is uneven at best.
The cast perform best when they are not coerced to act; the smaller the parts, the better the performance.
Nikola Film International