Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhistan, a beautiful city for the most part, at least from the way Welcome to the USA shoots it. There’s less of those shots and more indoor spaces, ones that Aliya (Saltanat Nauruz) and her sister Alma (Diara Aliyeva) inhabit. But whether it’s on the streets or in her own home, she can feel the encroachment of a nationalistic theocracy. Alma converted to Islam, which is fine, audiences shouldn’t assume that she’s starting to hold patriarchal or homophobic views. But Aliya, an out lesbian, still sees everyone’s patriotism as the beginning of something worse.
Almaty’s streets, then, serve as a battleground between Aliya and the smallest hostilities against her. No wonder why she want to immigrate to the US, a move that she’s only revealing to a few. She can take her niece (Sultana Bektasova) out for pizza and Alma is still letting her see her niece. The niece is now talking about her brother in law’s second wife, among others. This is a film that likes its silences, its temperate coldness and its occasional conversations. There’s something both didactic about these conversations, as well as its tendencies not to push for tension.
The personal stuff here is also not the best, like Aliya’s love-hate relationship with her ex Assel (Aida Zhetpissova). Otherwise, it’s part of a historical mosaic. This pandemic made me, among things, learn about history and about countries that turn for the worst. That turn takes centuries and context, but those things are hard to look at while people are living through it. This film takes its audience to the perspective of a woman biding her time before she can escape. Its low key approach reflects that of its protagonist, choosing to reveal what she really thinks when she must.