One of the most important cinematic movements of all time is the Italian Neorealist movement of the 1940s and 50s. To provide a brief overview for the unaware, the Neorealists strove to paint post-war Europe in its remarkable unremarkability. Thus, a cinematic tradition emphasizing the real was born.
Sharipa Urazbayeva’s Mariam builds upon such a tradition. Based off of her real-life stories, and staring the real-life Mariam (Mariam Sabbusinova) herself, this film could easily fit inside a larger canon of films that emphasize the real. This is the selling point of Urazbayeva’s film. It is a fictionalized documentary, made in conjunction with its subject.
After her husband disappears, Mariam must head to the state office to discuss receiving a welfare package. However, since the body has not been recovered, the state refuses to officially certify the husband as dead, meaning the aid cannot be provided. Thus, Mariam must single handedly take care of her children in the throes of a harsh, rural Kazakhstani winter.
Urazbayeva’s film is not for the restless. Even Mariam’s short seventy-five-minute runtime feels slightly overlong. Urazbayeva is determined to paint Mariam’s life in as much detail as possible, right down to the very mundanities. At times it is engaging, and at times it is lulling. Weirdly, it may make a fascinating pair with Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, in terms of slowly paced films about single mothers. There is a lot of power present here, however, this is very much an acquired taste.