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Angel on the Right (2002)

Fararishtay kifti rost

an enjoyable, and idiosyncratic, treat

Directed by:

Djamshed Usmonov

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 89 minutes

Country: France, Tokelau

Djamshed Usmonov's 'Angel on the Right', deserved winner of several Film Festival prizes, derives its title from an Islamic fable, according to which an invisible angel seated on a person's right shoulder records the person's good deeds while another on the left records the bad deeds, and at Judgement Day entry into heaven or hell depends on which angel has recorded the greater number of deeds. Accordingly it is a film obsessed with negotiations, accounting, and the balancing of good against bad.

The first thing that Hamro (Maruf Pulodzoda) does upon returning to his Tadjik village of Asht after a ten year stay in Moscow is to browbeat the Russian cab driver into letting him off paying half the fare. His motives for coming home at first seem pious – his mother Halima (Uktamoi Miyasarova) is on her deathbed, and her final wish is that Hamro should finish building her home – but soon it emerges that his interest in renovating the house has as much to do with his need to sell it to repay debts to Russian gangsters. Halima, in turn, has merely feigned her illness in order to trick Hamro into completing the work on the house which was interrupted a decade ago when he left – and the community which has assisted Halima in her deception really wants Hamro home so that he can pay back to Asht the debts from which he fled ten years ago, and so that he can take responsibilty for the ten year old son he never knew he had (Kova Tilavpur).

Hamro thinks he's a tough guy, driving a hard bargain with his neighbours and roughly seducing his mother's nurse Savri (Malohat Maqsumova), but it is soon clear that he is no match for the gangsters on his tail or indeed for the mayor of Asht (Ardonqul Qulbobo), and the only thing that can save Hamro is an unusual eleventh hour deal which his mother strikes with the mayor. After some extraordinary fiddling of the figures, Hamro's books are rebalanced, and he is granted a temporary reprieve from damnation.

'Angel on the Right' starts off as an affectionate, if cynical, portrayal of the curious ritualised barter which prevails in a small, impoverished town from the former Soviet Union, but an unexpected and absurdly understated miracle occurring near its finish transforms the film into a piece of magical realism on moral choices and their consequences. Its budget is clearly minuscule, the untrained (but uniformly excellent) cast consists almost entirely of the director's relatives, and the visual style is almost documentary, but the film's charm and imagination, and its bittersweet, morally open ending, make it an enjoyable, and idiosyncratic, treat.

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It's Got: Cosmic themes in a small town setting, random acts of violence against a gourd salesman (I paid good money for that pumpkin!), and a character who has Gods phone number

It Needs: Broader recognition

Alternatives:

Cinema Paradiso, Rainy Dog, The Werckmeister Harmonies

Summary

Deceptively simple, funny and grim all at once – a miracle of a film that transcends its limited budget through sheer inventiveness

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