Director: Aktan Abdykalykov. France/Kazakhstan. 2001. 98mins

The desolate Kazakhstan locale may be relatively unknown but everything else about this slight coming of age drama is wearily familiar. The concluding film in director Aktan Abdykalykov's autobiographical trilogy follows a teenage boy in the weeks leading up to his departure for military service. Family strife, the pain of first love and the uncertainty over what lies ahead are the dramatic substance of a muted, reflective piece where the monotonous pacing tests the patience of even the most committed viewer.

Having covered his childhood in the mini feature La Balancoire (1993) and his adolescence in the award-winning Le Fils Adoptif (1998), Abdykalykov now turns his attention to the onset of adult maturity and the issues that accompany it. Once again, he casts his son Mirlan as the central protagonist The Chimp, so called because of his jug ears. A sensitive, soulful seventeen year-old, he is an object of easy ridicule for his bashful manner and sexual inexperience.

The bleak Kazahstan village where he lives has little to offer any teenager and dead-end days pass in unvarying succession, interrupted by the occasional fistfight or an embarrassing encounter with the village's feisty trollop Zina. Raging hormones, irksome acne and brief displays of macho bravado are the order of the day in a scenario familiar the world over. The Chimp's domestic life is dominated by a drunken, ne'er-do-well father who seems to be a living embodiment of where the future will lie for many of The Chimp's contemporaries. He refuses to give up on his father though, constantly caring for his abandoned motorbike and making sure he returns home safe and sound. Whilst still merely a boy, there is also a sense in which he is already outgrowing the role of a child and assuming the responsibilities of a surrogate parent. in the closing moments as he leaves the village to embark on his military service, he is also leaving behind a period of his life that is now finished.

Working in full colour for the first time, Abdykalykov appears to have lavished his greatest attention on the look of the film. Dialogue is sparse and simple images speak more eloquently than words. Characters are dwarfed by vast skylines and mirrors play a key role with The Chimp's father turning aside one mirror when he is unable to gaze upon the face of the man he has become. Broken mirrors are perched upon the shoes of the randy youngsters, desperate for any glimpse of what lies beneath a girl's skirt. The visual care and precision of the film is by far its most attractive quality.

Dramatically the film is much less successful. Individual moments reflect a sense of having been drawn from real life and there are isolated scenes of great poignancy and truth as The Chimp makes a brief clumsy pass at a nurse or confronts his broken father in wordless understanding. Alas, they are monly moments in a film that too often seems to lack that edge of freshness mor individuality you would expect from firsthand recollection of autobiographical material.

One might be more forgiving of the flaws were it not for the slow, deliberate pace that reduces everything to the same funereal level.

Prod cosNoe

Int'l SalesWild Bunch

ProdsFrederique Dumas-Zajdela, Marc Baschet, Cedomir Kolar

ScrAktan Abdykalykov, Avtandil Adykoulov, Tonino Guerra

CinematographyHassan Kydyraliev

Prod desDzylkycy Dzakypov

EdTilek Mambetova, Natalia Vavilkina

MusAlexander Yurtaev

Main castMirlan Abdykalykov, Sergej Golovkin, Dzylkycy Dzakypov,

Alexandra Mitrokhina