Wings of satire: 'Wind Man' is a crazy-quilt of absurdism, pathos, mysticism, and satire. (Photo courtesy SFFS)

The Fantastical Imagination of 'Wind Man'

Dennis Harvey September 9, 2008

When Wind Man appeared on the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas’ schedule, moral crisis ensued. I’d seen and loved this big-screen directorial debut by veteran Russian screenwriter Khuat Akhmetov last year at the Montreal Festival du Monde, reviewing it for the trade magazine Variety without ever imagining it would find any berth (at least in North America) outside the fest circuit. I mean, when was the last time an earthy parabolic whimsy of the once internationally-popular Soviet Block (think Parajanov, Jakubisko, etc.) surfaced on U.S. arthouse screens? Er….1970? Certainly long ago—long before the Iron Curtain fell.

Yet here is Wind Man, such a throwback it feels like the rediscovery of an exotic, presumed-extinct species, now unexpectedly perched for a week at the Kabuki. And its arrival trumps my capacity for the informative neutrality I’ve been asked to use in my approach to films on the SFFS Screen, which is programmed by the publisher of, the San Francisco Film Society. Forgive me, but this will be a rave.

When the male only child of a young couple spies the exposed face of an ominously veiled stranger who might be Death itself, he falls gravely ill. Yet he’s miraculously cured by a mute, frail, elderly being (Igor Yasulovich) found in the family’s barn, having presumably landed there after breaking a wing in perilous flight.

This strange latter creature, who might be a real angel—albeit a pretty clumsy and hapless one—frightens every villager save the boy and his kindhearted father (Kuandyk Krystbaev). In the best tradition of oft-banned ’60s Eastern European and Soviet cinema (I gotta ask: Why on earth did censorship boards allow so many films to be made, only to suppress them when complete? Didn’t they read the scripts?), government bureaucracy is ridiculed as bigwigs descend in an attempt to exploit the "angel" for ersatz patriotic purposes. Ultimately it’s the rebellious individuals who preserve goodness, while the bleating-sheep majority are left to suffer the karmic consequences of their bad faith.

Wind Man
is a delightful whatsit. Negmat Dzhurayev’s production design makes the village a crazy quilt of Rube Goldberg-ian structures in keeping with the overall tenor of mixed absurdism, pathos, mysticism and satire. Yury Poteenko’s choral-orchestral score is another persuasive element.

Watching Wind Man, you might be surprised to rediscover the pleasure of fantastical cinematic imagination that’s very much human in scale, as opposed to the CGI-dominated comic book or videogame-inspired behemoths that have increasingly dominated the multiplexes in recent years. Hokay, I’m bein’ a Fugly ‘Murrican here, but in dollar terms, the consumer-value contrast is striking: Wind Man probably cost a few thousand mil. Yet surely it will settle into your subconscious more deeply than recent hundred-million-plus Hollywood punts into fantasy terrain, not excepting those latest urgent addresses from Planets Mummy, X-File, Hulk, Indiana Jones, Narnia, or even (insert sacrilegious gasp here) Batman.

Yet there’s a mall-friendly sales point. Witty on every plane save those of irony and conscious camp, Wind Man was nonetheless set/shot in the ersatz home to Sacha Baron Cohen’s titular tourguide in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I suspect Borat himself would blandly accept Wind Man’s allegory as everyday truth. And that would make his perception of reality once again more appealing—if more anarchic and rude—than your average American’s, Ugly or otherwise.

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