One can imagine how hard life is in rural Kazakhstan, and Sharipa Urazbayeva‘s Mariam shows some of the realities of such a life. The titular character (Meruert Sabbusinova) has to skin a sheep. She teaches her eldest son Ali how to complete that task. Ali, in some capacity, has to be the man of the house now that Mariam’s husband Serikbay disappears. Mariam can probably manage the livestock farm that Serikbay inadvertently leaves her. But a helping hand, regardless of gender, is nice to have. The film also makes it seem like Kazakhstan is that much of a patriarchal society. Losing a real man of the house will make banks and lenders lose their faith in a farm. So lenders take her livestock away, and with that she loses her income.
Mariam doesn’t have all the choices any other person enjoys. Her only option, as Mariam makes it seem, is to wait three years for the authorities to certify Serikbay as legally dead. After that, she can receive government benefits that widows get. Seirkbay is still missing, but she still has two and a half years to go before she can be officially a widow. And she can’t wait two years for the money. Good thing she runs into Mukhtar (Hamza Koksebek), a childhood friend who, by the film’s present day, is part of the police force. Mukhtar, then, can help expedite the process for Mariam. The only catch is that if Serikbay comes back, she must return all the money. Interesting catch 22 except that this film makes Mariam a passive player, at least for now.
There are also some shots here that feel too static, and that stasis is understandable. It’s a way for Mariam the vastness of the space and how much effort it takes for characters to move within such space. But sometimes these scenes feel like filler, which is not a good thing to feel when watching a mid length feature. This works on some movies but not others. Nonetheless this is an interesting exploration on what people turn into. They change when the worst thing that can happen happens to them. Urazbayeva wrote and directed this film after co-producing a news segment about Sabbusinova’s real life story which doesn’t reflect what happens during the third act. There are ways which Mariam’s depiction can turn into something worse. But what we get at least is someone existing within an amoral world.
Mariam comes soon on OVID.