Certain episodes in the documentaries “When the Persimmons Grew” and “Nails in My Brain” evoke an atmosphere reminiscent of Renaissance frescoes. The similarity lies in the harmonious resolution of diverse colors and the exploration of spiritual themes. What’s particularly striking is the way Hilal Baydarov infuses a sense of fluidity into both space and time, extending beyond the confines of the frame. Hilal Baydarov creates the feeling of movement with sounds, with the unity of in-frame and out-of-frame reality, visual images.
However, in the feature film “In Between Dying”, which competed in the main category at the 2020 Venice Festival, the filmmaker opts for a different approach. Here, the boundaries of space and time are meticulously crafted within the artistic frame. Consequently, viewers, including myself, are left with the impression that the author’s constructed reality does not extend beyond the frame’s edges. Outside of this frame lies our physical world and the presence of the film crew, making it clear that the illusion of reality is confined within the carefully curated cinematic space. Certainly, the reason for this distinction likely stems from Hilal’s characteristic introversion and hermetic approach. These qualities contribute to the heightened sense of artistic conventionality found in “In Between Dying.” Simultaneously, it’s this poetic style of expression that elevates the factor of artistic conventionality within the film. Elements like memory, the dream world, the subconscious, associative thinking, and a deep connection with natural imagery all come into play. What’s more, the film introduces religious motifs and characters, delivering monologues and dialogues infused with the rhythm of theological-philosophical-poetic texts. This blend of elements transforms the film into more than just a parable; it becomes a mesmerizing dream. Even the depiction of criminal motives is rendered in a poetic manner, a credit to the cinematographer, Elshan Abbasov.
When artistic convention in cinema is not applied correctly, it can often result in theatricality. This is characterized by a certain rigidity in the dialogues, a sense of the actors merely stepping into the frame to fulfill their roles as directed by the filmmaker, and a formal, stage-like quality to the settings. However, there’s a crucial element that rescues the narrative from falling into theatricality, and that’s Hilal’s distinctive hypnotic rhythm and manipulation of time. Interestingly, Hilal’s sense of introspection and otherworldly spirit doesn’t hinder viewers from immersing themselves in his cinematic world. Instead, it enhances the experience, drawing the audience into a unique and captivating realm.
What truly sets Hilal apart as an author is his unwavering commitment to his ideas and concepts. He remains resolute in staying true to his artistic path, and it seems as if cinema is his primary mode of existence. Through his films, he delves deep into the realms of self-exploration and self-awareness, all within the intricate context of life, death, art, and human relationships.
In the film “In Between Dying,” co-written by Hilal Baydarov and Rashad Safar, we encounter the character of Davud, portrayed by Orkhan Iskanderli,( the Prophet David is also identified with Davud, the ruler of Israel who was known for his righteous rule). The hero finds himself entangled in a conflict with his mother, played by Maryam Nagiyeva. Davud commits a grave act, killing a young man who insults his lover.
To escape the consequences of his actions, he embarks on a long and uncertain journey. In essence, this escape mirrors a profound journey of self-discovery, a quest to recognize life in its myriad layers, surmounting obstacles in pursuit of a higher truth, and ultimately seeking purification.
David’s journey towards self-awareness takes a unique path through experiences involving death and his interactions with women. He emerges as a guardian, rescuing women who have endured violence inflicted upon them by their fathers, husbands, and even their own families. For these women, salvation often arrives through the drastic measure of a man’s violent demise, where death paradoxically becomes a catalyst for new beginnings. Even in the tragic case of a young girl forced into an unwanted marriage by her family, her suicide serves as her salvation. Importantly, she achieves her desire to experience love before her untimely death. David, with his unwavering masculine care and love, brings light into the lives of these oppressed women, helping them navigate the harsh world dominated by men. His vital mission revolves around forging a harmonious connection between the two genders, bridging the gap between women and men. Transformed and cleansed of his own past sins, David returns to offer his mother the love and care she deserves. It is in this rekindled relationship that his mother fulfills her life’s purpose and peacefully passes away.
The central plotline intertwines with recurring episodes featuring David, captivating nature imagery, introspective monologues voiced by women and children, and the interplay between a woman’s and a man’s voice. Throughout the narrative, nature serves as both a picturesque backdrop and a symbol of pastoral life, playing a distinct and visually significant role in the film.
Interestingly, the characters of Jesus (Kamran Huseynov) and Moses (Samir Abbasov), despite being labeled as prophets, take on a different role in the story. They don’t merely chase David but serve as interpreters of his journey. Their characters are imbued with a comedic touch as they provide insights into Davud’s personality and the unfolding events, adding a whimsical layer to the narrative.
Similar to Hilal’s previous works, “In Between Dying” carries a meditative quality that immerses the audience in the filmmaker’s unique perspective. Through this film, Hilal masterfully invites viewers into his ascetic world, characterized by long, static shots, minimal editing, and a sparingly used musical score by Kenan Rustamli. The deliberate pacing of events allows for a gradual unfolding of the narrative, making ample use of easily discernible symbols like trees, horses, and fog, which resist convoluted interpretations. These symbols, at times, seamlessly transition into visual representations of the film’s underlying themes, but this integration only adds to the film’s overall artistic depth rather than diminishing it.
Furthermore, in “In Between Dying” the director deliberately avoids delving into emotional layers, choosing instead to maintain a stoic tone throughout. Murder cases are presented as a stark inevitability of everyday existence, devoid of excessive sentimentality. The situations and performances by the actors are devoid of excessive psychological complexity, and there is a deliberate absence of individualistic emphasis and expressiveness in their roles. In essence, the actors serve as cold-blooded executors faithfully following the director’s guidance.
By working with non-professional actors and employing straightforward, commonplace narratives, the director manages to obscure both the inexperience of the performances and budget constraints with wide-medium shots
For instance, a pivotal hand-to-hand confrontation between Davud and the rabid girl, shackled by her father, is resolved through clever shadow effects from a single angle. Similarly, a scene involving a woman subjected to domestic violence is relegated to the background. This deliberate decision by the director, to eschew detailed portrayals of the actors’ performances, serves to underscore the overarching thematic message of the film.