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Tension between the generations, and the often suffocating weight of ancestral tradition, take centre stage in the work of Ukrainian writer-director Nariman Aliev. These elements, broached in his short films Return with Sunrise and Loving You (both 2014), dominate Aliev’s first feature, Homeward (Evge).
Following the death of his elder son Nazim, fighting for Ukraine against the Russian-backed forces in Donbass, the Crimean Tatar Mustafa (Akhtem Seitablaev) arrives in Kyiv, set on taking the young man’s body back to his Crimean birthplace. Further, he demands that Nazim’s younger brother Alim (Remzi Bilyalov), currently studying in Kyiv, should accompany him and, disgusted to find that Nazim was engaged to a Ukrainian girl of Orthodox faith (the Tatars are Muslim), forcibly prevents her from joining them.
If initially Mustafa comes across as an off-puttingly arrogant figure, so indifferent to his younger son’s life in Kyiv that he doesn’t even know what the lad’s studying, it’s the film’s achievement that gradually during the course of their obstacle-strewn journey we come to understand, if not sympathise with, the compulsion that devours him.
“Crimea is our Jerusalem,” he tells Alim as they contemplate an expatriate Tatar graveyard, with years of longing in his voice. But ironically, the closer they get to this promised land the physically weaker he becomes, as if the very landscape they travel through (we get some lyrical shots of lakes and rivers) were draining his strength.
Where Homeward may hit problems with Western audiences is that it assumes background knowledge they’re unlikely to possess. Few will be aware, it’s fair to bet, that the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse from their native land by Stalin in 1944 and only partially and grudgingly allowed back decades later; nor will the mentioned names of Nestor Makhno (leader of an independent anarchist army in post-Revolutionary Ukraine) or Alexander Suvarov (an 18th-century Tsarist general) convey much. (Nor will most of us detect when the dialogue switches from Ukrainian or Russian to the non-Slavic Crimean.)
Regrettable, since it’s an eloquent and deeply felt movie that, dispensing entirely with any music score, conveys a complex of emotions all the more potent for being so starkly and unaffectedly presented.
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Sight & Sound Summer 2021
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