Angel On The Right

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Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Uktamoi Miyasarova, Maruf Pulodzoda, Kova Tilavpur, Mardonqul Qulbobo
Director: Djamshed Usmonov

This charming, wistful film takes its name and mantra from the Islamic legend that everyone has two invisible angels, one on each shoulder. The angel on the right notes good deeds and thoughts, while the one on the left records bad ones.

The selfish, rather unsavoury Hamro (Maruf Pulodzoda), a fairly mean type of guy who clearly overworks the angel on his left shoulder, returns to his home village of Asht in Tadjikistan when he hears word of his mother’s impending death. Unbeknownst to him, it is a ruse to bring him back from his 10 years of self-imposed exile in Moscow and make him face up to the huge debts he left behind.

It is time he faced up to his responsibilities and when he returns he finds that everyone wants a piece of him, including villagers who’ve been looking after his 10 year-old son in his absence.

Familial love and sacrifice warms up the screen amidst a harsh and cold world, and the film is full of subtle humour and local flavour in the portrayal of Tajik customs, traditions and use of proverbs. There’s a wonderful use of wry humour and the locals prove to be just as tough as the Mafiosi in Russia.

This film, shot and told simply, which only adds to its charm, draws exceptional and honest performances from its entire cast, particularly the truly outstanding Uktamoi Miyasarova as Hamro’s mother Halima (and the real life mother of both the director and Hamro), and Kova Tilavpur as Hamro’s young son Yatim.

The other undeniable delight of the film is Hamro’s blossoming relationship with his son, who at first, along with Halima’s nurse, he treats consistently like a slave and with a shameful lack of respect. The contrast between the pure innocence, good will and trust of the son in the face of his cynical, bitter, fallen father is simply superb, and a breath of fresh air in Hambro’s cold and desperate life. This is encapsulated perfectly in the scene when Yatim tells his father how he drew pictures of him and thought about him all the time during his absence.

A very powerful tale simplistically and beautifully told, this film justifies its prizes at the Festivals of Angers, Tromso, Tokyo and London last year and its place in the Official Selection of the 2004 Cannes festival.

5 out of 6 stars