May 28, 2024

Constructors: No laughs, but still the best comedy from Kazakstan I’ve seen all year

Constructors

written and directed by Adilkhan Yerzhanov.

Kazakstan

67 mins

I read that this was a comedy. There are two possibilities. Either the word ‘comedy’ means something very different in Kazakstan or Kazakstanis have a very different sense of humour.  No one in the Edinburgh cinema where I saw the UK premiere of Constructors had laughed at all when I checked the time an hour into the film. I mean not even a titter, not even one of those smiles that you can hear.  When it ended the applause was polite as though people were thinking, is the filmmaker in the audience? Better clap just in case.

From the write-up in the programme I was expecting a knock-about farce in the face of poverty. Humour overcoming adversity, that sort of thing. A family owned a plot of land, but they had to build a house on it asap, or the government would confiscate it. I imagined uncles and aunts all coming together to beat bureaucracy.

It was nothing like that. I haven’t seen such proud longeurs since Jim Jarmusch’s black and white Western starring Johnny Depp.  Sometimes it was like watching a series of stills as the camera sat on its tripod and stared at someone who was standing still. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, even stealing bricks. I would have thought the first rule of stealing bricks was do it as quickly as possible, but the actors were deliberately slowing everything down, making us wait for every expression or movement.

The plot concerns three siblings who live on their own in a flat after the death of their mother. All through the first scene I thought they were two girls and a boy, but I later realised they were actually two boys and a girl. After losing their flat as they cannot pay the mortgage they decide to live on a plot of land they own. The local government agent tells them they have to build the foundations of their house otherwise they will forfeit the land. This they try and do.

Rather than a comedy Constructors is a slow meditation on family relationships, poverty and the obnoxiousness of survival. The elder brother’s unspoken love for his brother is clearly depicted. Filmed in black and white this is a film that doesn’t jump out and grab you with its… well, with anything. Eons go by without a word being spoken, the camera just showing the pushing of a broken wheel-barrow or a wall.

And yet there is something about Constructors – though you have to approach it in the right mood. Which isn’t expecting a rip-roaring laugh-a-minute farce. It’s not funny, but it has a slow-paced rhythm that once you get into you may find soothing.

Oh, and Constructors is only 67 minutes long, so just when you’re thinking Aha! Now they’ve set the scene and we’re ready to go, it stops. You think they are just about to make an important point and then the

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