Screened as part of NZIFF 2013
Although set in a rural Kazakhstan high school, the commonplace violence and brutality explored in this austere and commanding first feature penetrates far beyond the classroom. Aslan, a clever 13-year-old student who has developed a mania for cleanliness after a medical examination, bears the brunt of bullying meted out by Bolat, who runs an extortion scheme obliging younger students to fork over protection money. Bolat is in turn ‘run’ by a gang of older students, themselves controlled by an outside gang. Teachers and parents are oblivious to or incapable of stemming the violence, while the police employ torture to get results. This reductive Darwinian view is delivered with mesmerising precision by 29-year-old Kazakh writer-director-editor Emir Baigazin, who has been compared to Tarkovsky for his vibrant spiritualised primitivism and to Bresson for his absolute visual economy. Movie violence is rarely harnessed to such pointed, deeply felt effect.