Monday, February 14, 2022

Qirliq Istakan-The Crystal Glass (1999)

The Uyghur people have been through a lot lately. From being governed by the Russians, to being oppressed by the Chinese, they only had a brief respite of freedom in-between two equally untenable prisons. Things are at their worst now, and it's up to the rest of the world to help out. One way for people to do this is to figure out who they even are, for a start (and how to pronounce their name correctly!), and what better way to do this through movies! Despite the restrictions mainland China's cinema already has, especially towards other ethnic groups, the Uyghurs have managed to have a pretty respectable little movie scene going. On a zero budget scale, but still, it's more than some can manage, and it can give one hope. Does that mean the movies themselves are good? Let's see, with 1999's The Crystal Glass...

Osman, Abdul, Rejep, and Tursun are four friends. All approaching middle age, and none really doing what they want in life. They are pretty recreational drinkers, and enjoy a good tipple during get-togethers. Things take a turn for the worse one night when a mystery man's arrival incenses them to go all out on the booze, with unintended side effects...

Qirliq Istakan is quite a neat film! It's a character driven piece, that strives to send a message about society, all while making its audience have a good laugh in the process. Alcoholism has been and still is a big issue in these parts of the world, and here we get a unique depiction of the topic.

While the film portrays drunkenness very well, where it kind of falters is its portrayal of post-drunkenness. It all gets a bit ridiculous and hard to buy. These fellas had way too much to drink, but the worst that'd happen is a bad hangover, yet one now has a permanent compulsion to dance when he hears random noises, and another is a gibbering lunatic, sitting upside down, with his eyes turned back-to-front. These are still amusing to watch, but make you scratch your head.

On the flipside, something I feel the movie really portrays well is the ugly side of drinking, without being preachy about it. It doesn't give a big sermon about why drinking a single drop will send you to hell and turn the blood in your veins to fire. We see the leads casually drinking, and it's seen in a normal light, and when they start drinking too much too quickly, it looks unattractive simply by showing us how much they're barrelling down, and how they're looking.

The characters are a fun bunch. It's Rejep and Tursun who bear the brunt of the alcohol. It's interesting how their repressed desires or lost careers come to the forefront after their bender. Of course like a dumbass I'd completely forgotten they were a poet and ex-dancer, respectively, but once it it sunk in, I appreciated the symbolism.

The other two leads have less to them, since they're the odd ones out, but Osman does serve as the film's narrator. He delivers the framing story to an editor, in quite an amusing scene. His unorthodox storytelling amuses the editor (and his humility impresses him), but it's clear he doesn't know when to stop, as he eventually rambles on so long the poor guy gives him a look of confusion, like 'What the heck did he just say??'.

Also of note is the mysterious guess who spurred on the film's drama by showing how tough he was, how much he could drink, and how great his life was. In stark contrast to how we see him at the end. I thought his character was interesting, and up to interpretation. I wondered if there was more to him, like he was a kind of cin (djinn), rather than a mere man.

Qirliq Istakan is a pretty lengthy comedy at 104 minutes, and while it never bored me or overstayed its welcome, I did wish it used its time better. A single scene might take 10 minutes, meaning a lot less actually happens than you might think. It's never bad, but I wish that extra time could've gone to exploring the leads' families and lives more. This is also quite a wordy film, and I was sometimes racing to finish the subtitles before they disappeared.

The cast here do fun jobs. While they may or may not be experienced actors, they give very natural performances, as if they could be anyone from off the street. This makes them feel very relateable.

The music here is neat, with the main track being a good one! It's repeated a little too much though, as if the composer only had enough time to focus on the one big track. I never got sick of it, but a few reprisals did try my patience, namely the one during Tursun's wedding dance, which I felt should've had an original track (like the one playing on the radio before being cut off!). There are also two songs to enjoy. One is a drinking anthem, while the other is a poetic ballad played during the end. Both are fun, with amusing and interesting lyrics, respectively.

The film is in the Uyghur language, which may sound a bit scary to a layman, but it's fairly intelligible with Turkish, so if you know that you'll be right here. The film is available to watch on youtube, with a neat translation by one Kurban Niyaz, so props to him, and many thanks for helping highlight his culture to the world.

Qirliq Istakan is quite an amusing and intriguing little film. It's cheap when compared to glossy Hollywood films, but even when stood next to them it still bears a pretty unique charm. And as far as zero budget foreign pictures go, it's a great example. A cheap or old camera means nothing when you've got a good script, and this has me excited for more films from these people!...

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