Wind Man: Good combats pettiness in compelling parable
June 19. Toronto Star
Starring Igor Yasulovich, Kuandyk Kystykbaev, Ayanat Esmagambetova. Directed by Khuat Akhmetov. 98 minutes.
In Wind Man, a vividly rendered if erratically paced parable by director Khuat Akhmetov, a Kazakhstan village gets a visitor who’s even more disruptive than Sacha Baron Cohen.
Late one night, a fireball crashes through the roof of a shed that belongs to Almat (Kuandyk Kystykbaev), a humble farmer. In its wake, Almat is alarmed to find a winged creature that is neither human nor bird.
After the bedraggled visitor (played by Igor Yasulovich) is cleaned up, he is revealed to be more feeble than menacing – merely a confused elderly man who happens to have vast, feathery wings protruding from his back.
But the local mullah decides he must be a devil, since he does not speak the language of Allah (actually, he doesn’t speak at all). Others believe he is an angel.
A corpulent bureaucrat comes from out of town to inspect him. Oddly unimpressed with the creature’s ability to conjure up a windstorm after being rudely poked with a hot iron, the bigwig declares the visitor to be “a nuisance” and without any ostensible use.
Only Almat and his family express much concern for his welfare. The other villagers grow more suspicious and fearful, especially as news spreads of another otherworldly being, a veiled harbinger of death known as the Madar, that has been seen lurking around.
Adapting (and relocating) an early short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Kazakhistan-born and Moscow-based Akhmetov deploys the same blend of wild fantasy, whimsical comedy and political allegory that was popular with censorship-wary Eastern Bloc filmmakers of the 1960s.
The result is a handsome and often compelling tale of hope and forbearance in the face of pettiness and venality. Too bad the latter half of the film is marred by logy storytelling and a clumsy transition from comic to tragic modes as the villagers endure a series of misfortunes.
Nevertheless, Wind Man joins a growing number of Central Asian films – most notably Gulshat Omarova’s Schizo and Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan – that are evidence of the region’s cinematic resurgence. They’re also notable for portraying rural Kazakhs as something other than grotesque buffoons – Borat be damned.