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“The river’s always longed for but its waters are dangerous; everything in this world has two aspects.” So says the warden-like father of the boys inhabiting The River’s cinematic riches. Aslan and his brothers live a spartan existence of hard work and harsh treatment in an arid Kazakh setting. Their one respite: secret visits to the local river. When an otherworldly cousin arrives, the boys’ routines are thrown into complete disarray.
Director Emir Baigazin re-enters the thematic waters of his beguiling Harmony Lessons and The Wounded Angel, exploring notions of guilt, responsibility and familial bonds between boys struggling their way towards manhood. A number of surprising grace notes lend The River an element of lightness as it moves with the steady, inexorable motion of its eponymous river, hiding mysterious undercurrents and absorbing the flurries of activity that periodically stir its surface.
Striking visuals abound and the precisely composed, often symmetrical shots evoke a desaturated (in every sense) Wes Anderson film, though tonally Baigazin continues to live up to comparisons with his spiritual ‘filmmaking forbears’ Tarkovsky and Bresson. A stark, poetic gem. — Jacob Powell
“Baigazin has for the first time not only written and directed the film, but has also served as the cinematographer. In his hands, The River becomes a delight for the eyes, and he utilises an elegant yet subtle feeling for composition, dreamy blue and beige hues, spacious wide-screen frames, and a leisurely camera to their best effect. The film’s images indicate a story tiptoeing somewhere between the real and the mythological world, between the realm of the symbolic, something akin to a collective unconscious, and some very concrete details of today’s globalised world – like popular culture and technology invading peaceful, rural, traditional lives outside of Western civilisation.” — Tina Poglajen, Cineuropa