A disappointing misfire from Yerzhanov who doesn’t have anything meaningful to say with his latest absurdist dark comedy.
Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov
2020 | Kazakhstan | Comedy/Drama | 90 mins | Kazakh & Russian
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Cast: Azamat Nigmanov, Kamila Nugmanova, Sanjar Madi
Plot: Ex-con Kermek and his beloved Eva want to leave their crime-infested lives on the Kazakh steppes behind. He has a dream: building a movie theater in the mountains.
Awards: Nom. for Orrizonti Award (Venice)
International Sales: Arizona Films
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
A cat is doused in kerosene and set on fire; as it hurtles through the forest, it creates a forest fire—this is how a character describes to another what a ‘yellow cat’ means.
In Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s new film, the yellow cat might also refer to its protagonist, Kermek, who’s dressed in a yellow summer outfit and running away from the law; or it could be the yellow Renault Kangoo that we constantly see traversing the long, lonely roads laid across the endless Kazakh steppes.
But to be frank, who really cares? After what could be one of his best films in A Dark, Dark Man (2019), Yerzhanov’s new Venice Orrizonti entry, Yellow Cat, is a disappointing misfire.
It is structured in several short chapters that tell of the journey of Kermek, who meets various characters, mostly petty gangsters and the police, but all are in cahoots with each other to take him down. Kermek, unbothered by the collective fuss over him, has a nobler goal: he wants to build a cinema in the mountains.
Despite the pretty visuals, numerous film references, and a consistent ‘comedic’ tone best described as casually dark and absurdist (somewhat like Roy Andersson), the storytelling in Yellow Cat is flat and uninteresting. Even when Kermek finds Eva, a woman he saves from prostitution, the story doesn’t turn for the better.
The most cringe-worthy moment for me comes when Kermek attempts to perform a famous scene from Singin’ in the Rain (1952), perfectly summing up the problems of Yellow Cat, the chief of which is that it has nothing meaningful to say about anything. It’s a pity because it has an excellent, recurring True Romance-esque score.