If you only see one Kazakh wife-stealing comedy this year, make it Walnut Tree. Even though it probably won’t be the Kazakh wife-stealing comedy you’re expecting.
The film, from director Yerlan Nurmukhambetov, is a small triumph, like a walnut. It’s perfectly paced, and it never abandons a sense of quiet, musing, comedy.
Saturday, April 9, 11:05 am
Monday, April 11, 5:15 pm
Director: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov
Producer: Yerzhan Akhmetov
Writers: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov
Cinematographer: Murat Nugmanov
Editor: Aibol Kasymzhanov
Music: Sultan Abet
Cast: Rustem Zhaniamanov, Balnur Asyl, Nurzhan Zhumanov, Asylbek Musabekov
Some of these hoops are quite slapstick. And others are simple and lovely. As in Hmong tradition, the concept of “wife-stealing,” is most often a sort of strange performance. The groom meets the bride at an agreed upon time, and he accompanies her to a surprise party. At least this is how things play out in Walnut Tree. The central thread of the film is a soft amusement at the many idiosyncratic cultural strategies we have for reaching certain experiences: laughing, singing, dancing, unions, childbirth, gift-giving, harvest, etc.
Besides this, the director presents a beautifully embellished picture of Kazakh cultural identity. The film is gorgeous in yellows, lavenders, browns, greens, and oranges. Even as the almost defiantly analog world he presents is, of course, manufactured. Just as in traditional Russian or Soviet imagery, the women of the film dress in “native” clothes while the men wear suits. There isn’t a corporate logo in the entire film.
And much of the film could have played out in exactly the same terms fifty or one hundred years ago. But today, Kazakhstan is one of the most industrialized and wealthiest of the former Soviet Socialist Republics. The per-capita GDP is relatively high (higher than Brazil and Mexico) and wealth inequality is low. So the highly pre-industrial, mountain village, aspect of the film presents a sin of omission if we are to assume the experiences presented to us represent any sort of universal “Kazakh” experiences. And Nurmukhambetov is certainly aware of all of this, at one point in the wedding, a group of bumpkin cousins proclaim, “Now let us dance in the Kazakh tradition!”
Walnut Tree is a breath of fresh air. It will keep you amazed, delighted, and grinning.