Dark, Dark Man, A (2019)

Nuri Bilge Ceylan meets Diao Yi’nan in the lawless Kazakh steppes in this brilliant slow-burning investigative procedural about systemic corruption and chronic violence, directed by one of Central Asian cinema’s most distinctive voices. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov
2019 | Kazakhstan | Drama | 130 mins | 2.35:1 | Kazakh
NC16 (passed clean) for violence and coarse language

Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Dinara Baktybaeva, Teoman Khos
Plot: A boy is murdered in Kazakh village. Detective Bekzat wants to wrap up the investigation quickly: after all, the perpetrator has already been found by local police officers. But when a journalist arrives from the city, everything falls to pieces.
Awards: Official Selection (Busan)
International Sales: Arizona Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Corruption, Truth
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener – Perspectives Film Festival 2020
Spoilers: No

If you love slow-burning investigative procedurals, as I do, you will find this unmissable. 

A Dark, Dark Man is already Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s seventh feature (he turns 38 this year), yet he shows no signs of slowing down with two more films already completed.  It is a brilliant work and deserves more exposure in the festival circuits and arthouse cinemas around the world. 

I would describe it as Nuri Bilge Ceylan meets Diao Yi’nan in the lawless Kazakh steppes; in particular, it shares a similar ‘spirit’ with the former’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and the latter’s Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014). 

It begins with a dead body as a detective plants evidence that would incriminate a local mentally-challenged man.  There is no investigation to be had with the suspect already pre-determined. 

This is the natural order of things in this part of the world until a female journalist unexpectedly drops by hoping to dig up a sensational story of systemic corruption. 

Yerzhanov’s direction is extraordinary as he delivers one beautifully-controlled shot after another, sometimes complemented by ‘80s-style synths that Cliff Martinez could have composed for a Nicolas Winding Refn picture. 

Slow, but always riveting, A Dark, Dark Man is a pensive take on a bleak masculine world where chronic violence is the only painful truth, particularly when one becomes the recipient of it. 

The irony is razor-sharp, and unsurprisingly so, as this is also a movie where characters do hilarious things and tell hilarious jokes. 

One might see a bit of the Old West in Yerzhanov’s film, but make no mistake, this is Central Asian arthouse cinema at its finest, directed by one of the region’s most distinctive voices. 

Grade: A-



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