Headline worthy media events often take place in a bubble. Take the fall of the Soviet Union; for all the footage of iconic walls falling and tanks backing off, the people who lived through that time and had to grapple with the uncertainty afterwards are often relegated to the shadows. It’s these neglected figures that Azerbaijani director Elchin Musaolgu brings to the forefront in Nabat, a compelling drama of little touches that follows one woman’s perseverance amidst the chaos that fell upon Nagorno-Karabakh as the USSR disintegrated.
Nabat, played with deft strength by acclaimed Iranian actress Fatemeh Motamed Arya, lives outside a small village with her rapidly fading husband. Each day she takes the trip into town to sell two jars of milk produced by her beloved cow. War continues, never seen but occasionally heard in dull thuds and flares of light. The fighting claimed her son and it looks set to claim her village too when everyone is evacuated leaving Nabat alone to keep the village alight (literally), care for her cow and see out her husband’s final days.
Right from the deliberate opening, a confident shot that sees Nabat trudge slowly and steadily into town, it’s clear that Musaoglu feels no compulsion to rush. The film unfolds at the same reliable speed as Nabat. Time is spent following her progress to the village, at first chatting along the way until the town no longer holds anything but ghosts.
It’s these little touches that form the core of Nabat. Musaoglu is more interested in the intimacies of the daily routine and how it changes when events sweep over. Nabat cooks and cleans, irons clothes and carries milk. When a wolf howls at night she goes outside with a shotgun to scare it away. Yet she also singlehandedly buries her husband, cares for the deserted village and mourns her son.
Arya, in a powerful performance accentuated by her control of small gestures, brings out Nabat’s compassion in the face of overwhelming loss. When her cow goes missing, the pain is in her cries yet gentle defiance leaps free as she saves a wolf, the only other creature to remain. The most affecting shots are also devastatingly simple. Early on, Musaoglu allows the camera to rise to the empty spot on the wall where her son’s lost photo used to hang, an extra reminder that he’s no longer around. Later on, this is filled by a poster of Che Guevara, the closest she can find to her beret wearing child.
There are missteps along the way; flashbacks of her son over egg the pudding while the music, impressive as it is, distracts from the naturalistic feel that Musaoglu calls on so effectively the rest of the time. This reduces but doesn’t undermine the impact of Nabat. The compassion and persistence of a wife and mother who loses both roles is put centre stage as Musaoglu’s film uses countless small actions to create enough vibrations to reverberate well past the closing credits.
Director: Elchin Musaoglu
Cast: Fatemeh Motamed Arya