Dir. Ilgar Najaf. Azerbaijan. 2017. 90 mins
An interpretation of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, Ilgar Najaf’s Pomegranate Orchard (Nar baği) is a measured familial drama played out against the picturesque backdrop of the titular plantation. As a depiction of a time that has passed amidst the onslaught of modernity, it is often calm and quiet whilst hiding a maelstrom of emotions below the surface. Opening the East of the West Competition at Karlovy Vary 2017 gives the film a comparatively high profile which should net a healthy amount of interest on the festival circuit – especially considering the relative paucity of films originating from Azerbaijan. Its languid pace might not play well to more general audiences and makes arthouse distribution a hard reach, however.
Performances are understated throughout with recriminations and guilt all simmering below the surface of the characters
Despite suffering from the ravages of old age, Shamil (Gurban Ismayilov) still attends to the family pomegranate orchard helped by his daughter-in-law Sara (Ilahe Hasanova) and her young boy Jalal (Hesen Aghayev). As they contemplate whether they’ll be able to carry on managing, their lives are turned upside by the reappearance of Gabil (Semimi Farhad), Shamil’s son and the father of Jalal. Having fled the village 12 years before after an incident with his brother, Gabil has returned to reveal he has a comfortable life in Russia and wants his family back. But the scars of the past run deep. Will he find any forgiveness?
If Chekov’s original sentiments were somewhat ambivalent about social upheaval – he was more critical about those who could not accept or adapt to change – Najaf’s film finds the modern world a corrupt place, encroaching on the idyll of rural life. Ahan Sylar’s cinematography treats the family orchard with reverence, the camera swooping over the land and giving it a bucolic grace and beauty.
Gabil’s sudden presence becomes a disruption of this world, the constant ringing of his mobile phone bringing an unwelcome blast of modernity into the peace. It’s only when he reintegrates with his surroundings – such as when he helps to bring the harvest in - that a possibility of balance and happiness becomes apparent. The final 20 minutes of the film show how the reality of 21st century existence means that the life lived by Shamil and his family is a near impossibility, however.
Performances are understated throughout with recriminations and guilt all simmering below the surface of the characters. There is certainly a tangible sexual tension between Gabil and Sara, including a ‘cup massage’ scene that plays with the boundaries between bland domesticity and carnal longing. This adds some passion and offers a relief to the more staid and measured moments that make up the majority of the film.
This sedate nature is part of Pomegranate Orchard’s charm, a welcome respite from the chaos of the everyday. The fact that the final 20 minutes take such a dark turn gives the film a tone of bitterness as it turns into an indictment of the lapsed morality of a modern culture.
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Producers: Mushfig Hatamov, Ilgar Najaf
Screenplay: Asif Rustamov, Ilgar Najaf, Roelof Yan Minneboo
Cinematography: Ayhan Salar
Editor: Elmir Hasanov
Production Design: Rafig Nasirov
Music: Firuddin Allahverdi
Main cast: Ilahe Hasanova, Semimi Farhad, Gurban Ismayilov, Hesen Aghayev