Aktan Arym Kubat’s The Light Thief is a mishmash of comedy, politics and poetry, and yet a haunting portrait of the death of cinema.
Electric Dreams by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers.
Directed by and starring Aktan Arym Kubat as Svet-Ake, or Mr Light, the man who brings electric magic to remote Kyrgyzstan, The Light Thief is above all an allegory of cinema. And as the man bringing electric magic to the Kyrgyzstani masses, he’s quietly charming. Its opening shots of Mr Light’s mechanical wind mill, harnessing life’s energy, just like the kids and their plastic bag kites, could be interpreted as political commentary against a state out of touch with its people or on Kyrgyzstan’s renewable energy resources. And certainly, this little backwater reliant on hydroelectric doesn’t seem to benefit from its larger Russian neighbour’s extensive Druzhba pipeline. But as Mr Light turns electricity meters backwards for those on the breadline unable to pay, their survival is as much cinematic as electric.
Mr Light has a dream. To harness the wind sweeping across their valley into energy that’s free for everyone. The locals own the land, so why shouldn’t they benefit from the energy hurtling across it. Only the local investor Bezkat doesn’t agree, he wants people to pay for their imported electricity and sell their land to the Chinese. The rape by the Chinese couldn’t be more explicit, as Bezkat shepherds his overseas investors into a traditional yurt for an ancient battle of the sexes to win a camel where a naked woman tied to the beast of burden must free herself before the man penetrates her. Only Svet-Ake comes to her reluctant rescue, outraged at the spectacle.
It’s a familiar anticapitalist story, complemented by poetic images and a curious character comedy. Blundering into a horse race on the steppe, Svet-Ake, along with his bike, is rescued by his drunk friend Mansur, who urges the son-less Mr Right to get an electric shock to turn his female hormones to ashes before burying him up to his neck after he nearly electrocutes himself. This comedy of manners however verges into Pasolini style film anthropology with a room full of Kyrgyz men in white kalpak hats attending the mayor’s funeral, or Tarkovsky style cinepoetry with donkeys braying and rolling in the dust, their frustration all too clearly a metaphor for the villagers’ own.
In between the politics, comedy and poetry, there are other incidents to entertain us along the way – Mansur’s divorce, Svet-Ake’s wife washing her husband in a tin bath, bickering daughters, a burdensome grandmother or Mr Light’s rescue of a boy stuck up a tree. This is life in Kyrgyzstan in all it’s unstructured, shapeless forms. And as The Light Thief ends, almost bathetically,
Mr Light murdered and his body unceremoniously dumped in the river, there’s a grim presentiment that hope is past, the good guys have been vanquished, and Kyrgyz cinema drowned in the collateral. It may not be heartwarming per se, but where there’s light there’s hope.
The Light Thief is released on 28th July 2011 in the UK