Cardiogram

on September 15, 1998 by Lael Loewenstein
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Only continued festival recognition, such as the grand prize it won at the Singapore Film Festival in April, might help to hook "Cardiogram" a distributor. A slight, skeletal but sometimes moving story, "Cardiogram" follows Zhasulan (Zhasulan Asauov), a 12-year-old boy with a weak heart sent by his mother for treatment in a medical clinic near the Kazakh capital city of Almaty. Zhasulan is a loner, more at home in the unending stretches of barren space where he lives than in he clinic.
As an outsider, his profound sense of isolation makes him fodder for he other boys' teasing. And they are merciless, taunting him during the day and even while he sleeps. Zhasulan's only solace lies in a clinic nurse, whom he silently longs for, follows and even spies on as he showers. When he realizes she is seeing a doctor, a heartbroken Zhasulan decides to escape.
Because the boy cannot communicate with either children or adults, the almost wordless performance of Asauov is frustrating, making it equally hard for him to connect with the audience. His acting is entirely internal, and he is given so little chance to be vivacious that he nearly recedes into the nondescript set design. Put another way, "Cardiogram" is no "400 Blows" and Zhasulan is no Antoine Doinel. Still, writer/director Omirbaev flirts with a few moments of intriguing stylistic experimentation in this mostly straightforward film; there's a black-and-white dream sequence that drifts in and out of reality accompanied by spare but evocative sound effects. And the ast shot, in which Zhasulan escapes by climbing into a truck, effectively, but belatedly, melds a viewer-protagonist identification. Starring Zhasulan Asauov, Serik Toubandykov, Saule Tohtybaeva and Gulnara Dusmatova. Directed and written by Darezhan Omirbaev. Produced by the National Film Studio of Kazakhstan. No distributor set. Drama. Kazakh and Russian-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Screened at the San Francisco fest.
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