Dir/scr: Djamshed Usmonov. Fr-Ger-Switz-Russ. 2006. 93mins.
Narratives rarely come crisper and more to the pointthan To Get To HeavenFirst You Have To Die - and audiences rarely get taken on suchsubtly unpredictable rides. The new film from DjamshedUsmanov, the Tajik director of Angel On The Right, begins as adeceptively gentle, tragic-comic tale of a young man's sexual worries, butwinds up a far darker, troubling affair.
Usmanov's absolutely sure-footed direction and storytellingmake for a film that gently, gradually pulls the rug out from under our feet,in a classic example of less-is-more film-making. This, together with eminentlymarketable sex and crime components, should make for a modest but robust exportprospect after it played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
The story's hero Kamal - whose name, typically of the film's reserve, we don'tlearn until about 45 minutes in - is a young man from the sticks, first seen ina confidently leisurely opening shot consulting his doctor about an intimateproblem. He's unable to perform sexually, which is causing problems with hisyoung wife, even though, as soon becomes apparent, Kamalhas nothing but sex on the brain.
Travelling by train to alarge town to visit family, he shyly hits on a young woman, then on arrival,follows a pretty young factory worker, Vera (Droukarova),whom he spots on the bus. He goes to stay with his cousin, who althoughco-habiting with his girlfriend, likes to frequent prostitutes and obliginglylines one up for Kamal - but to no avail.
Vera, however, soon warms toKamal's attentions - which is where, just under thehalfway mark, the film takes an unexpected turn. What seemed a gentle,melancholy comedy about an ineffectually libidinous nebbish now becomes a tautcrime story, as Kamal wakes in Vera's flat to beconfronted by a very menacing man, none other than her long-absent lowlife husband.
Effectively taken prisonerby him, Kamal meekly allows himself to be co-optedinto the man's criminal activities. Things come to a head when one caper, in arich couple's house, goes drastically wrong. Where that finally leaves Kamal is perhaps not that hard to predict, but the sort-ofhappy ending for him is also a highly troubling, if dramatically satisfying,one for the audience.
One of the film's trumpcards is the sullen, wide-eyed blankness of Golibekov,who plays Kamal with a barely changing impassivitythat wouldn't go amiss in a film by Robert Bresson orAki Kaurismaki. Because of his child-like,country-boy naivete, we assume Kamalis simply a sweet soul, but the more we see of him, the more we are aware ofhim as a morally blank slate, so all the more susceptible to corruption.
Cleanly shot and edited,with Usmonov proving a master of reserve in his useof long takes, To Get To Heaven' alsovividly evokes the mundanity and sordidness of itscity setting, from austere factories to the equally unappetising underworldhaunted by Vera's husband (including the most functional, no-frillspole-dancing joint ever frequented by screen mobsters).