Not very often do we North Americans get an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the relative obscurity of Azerbaijan.
The Precinct, the Azeri submission to the 83rd Academy Awards™ for Best Foreign Language Film is that glimpse and more. A contemporary fable, the film opens a door into the remarkably European lifestyle of urban Azeri youth.
The country as presented is exotic yet familiar, a perfect blend of the east and west, shot entirely on location with some Russian language in the mix as well.
Not an easy film, this ambitious, almost two hour long work tells the tale of Garib, a famed Azeri photographer obssessed by his work to the detriment of his relationship with his fiancée Sabina, hinting at a deep mistrust of his own detached emotions.
Far from a dull relationship film, The Precinct veers into Twilight Zone territory, continually bringing the viewer into incidental flashbacks, surrealistic, seemingly senseless, brutal violence and relationship dynamics filled with a seething tension.
The major conceit of the film will not be explored here, as a reveal may compromise the viewing pleasure of some of my readers. Suffice it to say, all is not as it seems as the film presents an alternate reality, or is it really an alternate?
Hellish moments pile one upon another to make the situation engulfing Garib and Sabina almost unbearable. It is in flashback we see where the overwhelming guilt, blame and obsession come into play, and the end result that threatens them both today.
Much seems allegorical to wartime behavior, Jewish identity, class distinction and the meaning of art and pornography.
Writer and director Ilgar Safat has obviously created a deeply personal film that resonates with passion and beauty, suffused with the insistent cruelty of humankind.
Mr. Safat came about the concept for The Precinct while in the Far East and exposed to the shamanism, which fused with his interest in Carlos Castaneda and evocative poetry.
He directed also The Roots of the Sky, a film revealing the Udege ritual of acknowledgement of the soul of the dead on its journey to buni, the next world.
In The Precinct, Mr. Safat uses a police precinct as an allegorical depiction of hell, oft an apt comparison in this part of the world.
Billed as an art house drama, the film features expert performances from Zaza Bejashvili as Garib and Melissa Papel as Sabina with a first rate supporting cast.
The score, composed b y Andrey Doynikov is pitch perfect, filling in the intense moments and restrained where itshould be.
Art Director Rena Effendi lends documentary cred to the work.
The Precinct is well worth your time and will stay with you far beyond the parking garage upon exiting.
The Precinct, Los Angeles theatrical opening on Friday, December 3rd at the Sunset Laemmle 5.
Wehonews. Roy Rogers 2010-03-12