KAZAKHSTAN SITGES FILM FESTIVAL

Sweetie, You Won't Believe It - review: Helluva pleasure with blood and guts from Kazakhstan

This Kazakh film is an extraordinary horror-comedy that goes to great lengths to explore the joys of genre cinema.

Kazakhstan, one of the countries in Central Asia, is on the rise in this chaotic 2020's cinematic world. Scintillating talents who are already raved internationally like Emir Baigazin (The Wounded Angel), Farkhat Sharipov (18 kHz, which is on my top10 list of 2020), and Adilkhan Yerzhanov (Yellow Cat), or the newest of the newest comets like Zhannat Alshanova (History of Civilization) and Eldar Shibanov (Sex, Fear and Humberger). But there is still an inexhaustible amount of cinematic glare to discover in this country, so let me introduce you to a promising newcomer Ernar Nurgaliev's helluva bloody delight Sweetie, You Won't Believe It

The protagonist of this film is a man named Das (Erkebulan Dairov). His days are glooming because the wife, Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva), being about to give birth, complaints about his indecisiveness or a bad taste in the baby's name, and, at the peak of frustration, Das stupidly decides to go fishing with his bad companies (Rustem Zhany-Amanov & Azamat Marklenov) on the day the baby is due. The first thing the director depicts is the misery of a man at the crossroads of his life. Das's current situation is typical of the so-called "A husband is pressed by his wife's ass," and she is constantly beating him up mentally. Instead, as a kind of petty vengeance, he has a stubborn attitude toward female clerks and bank employees by mumbling out the words "bitch ...... bitch ......". Even just in the first five minutes of the film, which depicts Das' daily life in a light-hearted manner, you can feel his miserable personality so intensely that you can't help but have a bone-dry smile.

After a few small incidents, Das goes fishing with his friends, but that's when he encounters the worst thing of all. He witnesses a horrific murder by gangsters who blow a man's head off with a shotgun. Das and his friends flee, and the gangsters, of course, give chase. A bizarre escape unfolds, but a mysterious bald man watches from afar. From here, the film really kicks into gear and our retinas are bombarded with bloody laughter. Earlobes are snapped off by accident, the human brain is blasted by a shotgun, various other body parts are blown off, and blood explodes so hilariously. The director spins a sanguineous tale covered in the flesh while precisely tapping into the tastes of bloodthirsty gore lovers.

And there is no shortage of delightfully lowbrow humor. One of his friends is a policeman, but at the same time he is a sexdoll-crazy virgin, and the two dolls he brings willfully cause some trouble for Das and his friends. There is also a heartwarmingly indecent joke relating to pee-pee which urges me to laugh out loud as a lover of jokes around excrement. With this kind of blood and vulgar humor as the driving force, this film strives to be thoroughly inappropriate.

But what sets this film apart from other genre films is the breathtaking sophistication of its direction. The cinematography by Azamat Dulatov, for example, has an elegance that is backed by his dextrous understanding of technology. Preeminent is the graceful tracking shot, capturing the protagonists walking with magnanimity, and the extensive use of long shots that take a step back from the immediate shock and show the miserable world itself where characters stand. In genre films such as horror, a certain amount of frivolity can be forgiven, but while this film follows that ordinary path to some degree, there are many moments where it deviates from this ordinariness drastically, which is why a different kind of intensity resides in this film.

Although such sophisticated filming and the aforementioned inappropriate humor seem to have the same relationship as water and oil, it is the skilled editing by the director himself that brings equilibrium between the two in this work. He does not indulge in the momentary pleasure by the latter, but also not bury himself in the lazy beauty that the former tends to fall into, and then his editing spins out the delicately smooth, exquisite rhythm which repudiates aforementioned easy pleasure and beauty. And this equilibrium is always filled with tension, where the two sides are vigilantly watching like a ferocious tiger for an opportunity to overcome each other. On the one hand, the inappropriate humor expands the characters' strong egos in the second half, while the three idiots, including the protagonist, accelerate their stupidity, and the mysterious bald man, whose identity is gradually revealed, stirs the film with his superhuman abilities. But one of the most impressive characters is a gangster who looks like Begbie from Trainspotting. He is a shotgun-toting maniac who turns people into chunks of meat throughout the film, but he also has a strange sense of muddy humanity like yakuza that amplifies, nevertheless, the amount of gore.

On the other hand, the cinematography and editing are also getting better and better. The most impressive scene is the hide-and-seek in the house between a bald man and a sexdoll-crazy idiot. At first glance, there is a blatant sense of blandness that urges audiences to say "That idiot must have been caught by a bald dude!". But the filmmakers have a keen eye, by meticulously calculating the distance and depth between the characters, sublimating this blandness into a thrilling laugh, and the liberatingly slow and unhurried editing transforms this laugh into even more advanced surprises. It is worth watching this film just for this wonderful screen composition and editing rhythm of this sequence.

You can call this film crime-comedy or horror-comedy. However, what is evident from its mise-en-scène is the deep knowledge of not only genre film history, but film history itself. Just learning and following the trends of genre films will probably produce interesting works, but watching films that are outside of these trends and absorbing their techniques can further deepen genre films, not as the deconstruction of it, but enrichment of genre pleasure. Some may laugh, but every time I watched the brilliant tracking shots in this film, which was unobtrusively, neatly fitted into the narrative, I was reminded of the long history of the tracking shot, in other words, I felt the accumulation of film history in this film.

Sweetie, You Won't Believe It is an extraordinary horror-comedy that goes to great lengths to explore the joys of genre cinema. The film, which received rave reviews at the Sitges Film Festival, and its director, Ernar Nurgaliev, are the shining comets of the 2020's genre cinema, and will surely make the future even bloodier and meatier.

© Sitges Film Festival press kit

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