The story focuses on a young Kygyrz woman called Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova), who wants to escape her constricted rural life. She impulsively runs away to the capital city of Bishkek and stays with her friend Aksana (Madina Talipbekova) and takes on a job in a bakery. One day, she is abruptly kidnapped and forced into marriage by a young man outside of the city. With the odds against her, Sezim tries to escape the long-standing clutches of Kygyrz tradition.
When we first meet Sezim, she is happy living with her family and has a strong bond with her younger sister Aygul (Aybike Erkinbekova). However, it is obvious that marriage is the furthest thing from her mind – instead, she dreams of an independent life that depends on a scholarship. As we become settled into a coming-of-age narrative, Brendle’s film takes a dark turn when Sezim is quickly taken from the street and essentially held against her will to marry not only a total stranger but her kidnapper, who is quickly congratulated for ‘securing’ a wife.
From a Westerner’s perspective, seeing this practice, which still occurs in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan, is shocking. The lack of free will, consent and women’s rights is one thing but there is no mention of kidnap nor any semblance of help or support from Sezim’s captors or even her own family. Instead, her mother tells her to remain submissive to save face while the domineering women ‘guarding’ Sezim are cold and implicitly accustomed to the protagonist’s suffering, hinting at their own experiences with ala-kachuu.
At the core of this story is the theme of tradition – from the expectations from Sezim’s parents for her to marry to the eponymous practice, there is an ardent belief in certain customs that need to be upheld between generations. Sezim’s husband Dayrbek (Nurbek Esengazy Uulu) is seemingly kind yet despite this, the frostiness of his family and the circumstances of their marriage do not dissuade Sezim’s need for freedom. During a sensitive moment between Sezim and Dayrbek, he solemnly notes: “This is expected of us”, which sadly echoes a slight reluctance but ultimately a resignation to family loyalty and duty, at the risk of personal ostracism – a fate that has befallen Sezim’s friend Aksana, the only one who seems to be concerned for her wellbeing though underused as a character.
As Sezim, Alina Turdumamatova’s heartfelt performance makes audiences feel her fight for freedom yet she isn’t afraid to convey fragility and vulnerability. Behind the camera, Brendle’s sensitive direction and strong dialogue, the tragedy of the situation raises questions as to what is more important to Kyrgyz communities – family pride or the future of later generations.
With a runtime of 38 minutes, Brendle strikes a chord with the emotional hardships and traditions related to ala-kachuu. An eye-opening drama anchored by Turdumamatova’s strong performance, Ala-Kachuu demands attention.
Director: Maria Brendle
Stars: Alina Turdumamatova,Nurbek Esengazy Uulu, Madina Talipbekova,
Runtime: 40 minutes
Country: Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland