This is not the first time that foreign audiences have become acquainted with new works by Azerbaijani film directors much earlier than Baku moviegoers – who in turn perceive this as a problem arising from the critical state of the domestic box office. The same happened with the new film called “The Precinct”, directed by Ilgar Safat and based upon his own script. At a time when the film was basking in the limelight at the Cannes film festival and at the 32nd international film festival in Moscow – two of the largest forums for films – our notion of it was, unfortunately, limited to the narrow frame of curt information in the press.
But the metropolitan media has recently reported some good news: the Oscar Committee of Azerbaijan has decided that “The Precinct” will represent the country in the Best Foreign Language Film category. This decision was followed by a flurry of bipolar comments about the film itself (which, I repeat, had not been seen at that time) and about the current status of the nation’s cinematography as a whole (which is not really ready for serious competition in the global market). However, all this did not last long. The recent première of this sensational film in the “Azerbaijan” cinema fully justified the long wait, and made it obvious that we often simply underestimate our film directors.
The film was produced by Narimanfilm in association with the “Gruziyafilm” studio, “Bagira Film” and the Independent Film-makers’ Association – South Caucasus (IFA-SC) within the framework of an international project. Financial support was provided by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan and by Pasha Bank.
The domestic audience has thus now become acquainted with “The Precinct”, and I think that it is time to share our impressions of this vibrant work. For a start, I would like to point out that the film is its young director’s first full-length feature film. “The Precinct” is a psychological drama diluted with mystical elements, which has enabled its author to highlight the main character’s quite serious problems in three perspectives: the past, reality, and the subconscious.
From the first shot, the viewer’s attention is attracted by the grey and dismal everyday life of Sabina (the film’s heroine, played by Melissa Papel), whose mother regularly lectures her on the nature of men.
The essence of this lecture is quite simple: a man is a lump of clay from which one should mould a husband in time, or else the man remains ordinary dirt which cannot be washed away. Simultaneously, the film shows, as if casually, Sabina’s hands smeared with clay. After she has finished moulding another lump of clay, she puts it into the oven in order to fire it. Does this not mean that the “moulded” husband remains clay until his death, and that only a man who has gone through the crucible of life may be called her husband? This is, however, just a thought; the main issue is that the advice to “wash” specifically relates to the heroine’s fiancé, the young and talented photographer Garib (played by Zaza Bejashvili) whose scanty earnings will never be enough for the family. In a word, love and lack of money in one package is a common social deadlock, the “exit” from which becomes a car crash of which the two main characters are suddenly the victims. It seems that this is end that the further development of the plot makes no sense, but the film goes on – more precisely, it just begins, from the moment when Garib and Sabina miraculously regain consciousness and realize that they are in a police precinct instead of a hospital.
The place looks dubious on screen, and does not blend in with the context of contemporary realities. Attention is involuntarily focused on the precinct’s neat and well thought-out interior – a space detached from the world, where Time itself seems to have stood still. Stale air thoroughly imbued with cynicism and cruelty, there is only one valid morality, firmly established over the years. In here, anyone can become the innocent victim of monstrous physical violence.
Moreover, in this horrible place, far from civilization, files on each of the precinct’s residents are carefully kept for decades, and these documents – smelling of damp and rats – become in the hands of the uniformed inquisitors powerful and timely instruments of moral terror. Garib cannot, of course, avoid this, and after a session on “prophylactic measures” he simply loses touch with reality. His bare subconscious animates his childhood, youth and native Gobustan – a distant and deserted rocky area with few signs of life, an abundant number of ancient caves and merciless cave laws. This dismal ghetto of depravity and violence has its own morality, and, for the first time in his life, Garib learns about the meaning of humiliation and human dignity through the lens of his own experience. His first steps in the complex profession of photography were also made here, among the ancient rock paintings, the secret of which was first revealed to him by his teacher – an old local photographer.
This teacher also told Garib something very important, but what? Garib cannot remember, but after a while it dawns on him: The old man often repeated that “Time is cyclical”, and, recalling those words, the hero suddenly begins to understand that his attempts to delete terrible years from his memory were in vain. He also understands that all human actions are securely stored on “negatives” of Time which sooner or later become visible – simultaneously exposing naked and unadorned habits of society.
Today we can unambiguously say that Ilgar Safat’s film “The Precinct” is destined for a wide audience of viewers, regardless of where they live, and that the film will continue to be successful for a long time. I am afraid to express bolder predictions, and I would therefore like to present the young author of this sensational film to the readers “Kaspiy”.
Ilgar Safat is known in Baku not only as a director, but also as a talented poet and rock bard. In 1995, he graduated from the M.F. Akhundzada Pedagogical Institute of Azerbaijan as a teacher of Russian and Russian literature, and went on to successfully publish many works in the press. In 2002, he completed courses at the Graduate School of Scriptwriters and Directors in Moscow (where he worked under V.I. Khotinenko), and has since directed over 10 films: “The Green Pastures”, “Roots of Heaven”, “Grandson of Mountain”, “The Spirit that lives in Stone”, “Dismissed. Kiss You. Boris”, “Sonnet 129”, “The Holly Virgin of Sofra”, “Peri-Gala”, “Return to Gobustan”, etc.
His pictures, filmed in various genres, have won numerous awards at international film festivals in our country and abroad. This director’s first feature film will soon appear on the world stage, and might possibly add an Oscar to Ilgar Safat’s list of awards. However, we still have time to write about this, but for now we would like to inform our readers that the film “The Precinct” will be shown in the “Azerbaijan” cinema from 23 to 29 September.