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Pomegranate Orchard – No one is guilty

Pomegranate Orchard – No one is guilty

The pomegranate, owing to its inherent structure, has long been intertwined with the concept of unity amid diversity within the narratives of ancient philosophers and religious texts. Simultaneously, it stands as a symbol of love, marriage, and sexuality. It holds significance in representations of the hell as well…

The choice of titling the film “Pomegranate Orchard” (original name – İlqar Nəcəf “ Nar bağı” ) by its creators may indeed carry a deliberate nod to Chekhov’s renowned work, “The Cherry Orchard” – a connection suggested further by the film’s credits, citing inspiration from the latter… Maybe…?

However, as seasoned cinephiles are aware, serendipity seldom plays a role in the world of cinema. The deliberate naming of the film “Pomegranate Orchard,” which intricately delves into the realm of family dynamics and human connections, seems to signal a purposeful alignment with its thematic exploration.

“Pomegranate Orchard” marked director Ilgar Najaf’s second feature film. The screenplay was a collaboration between Asif Rustamov, Ilgar Najaf, and Roelof Minneboo. Ayhan Salar served as the director of photography, while Rafig Nasirov contributed as the production designer and Firudin Allahverdi as the composer. The film’s lead roles were skillfully portrayed by Gurban Ismayilov, Ilaha Hasanova, Samimi Farhad, and Rovshan Karimdukht.

The film debuted at the 52nd Karlovy Vary Festival, where it had its initial premiere. Notably, it clinched the “Special Jury Prize” at the 13th Eurasian International Film Festival and was bestowed the “Special Highlight” recognition by FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. Noteworthy, too, is actor Gurban Ismayilov’s achievement, as he was honored with the “Best Male Actor” accolade.

The film “Pomegranate Orchard” sheds light on a predicament that took root in Azerbaijan during the Soviet era, but has since exacerbated in contemporary times, resulting in grave repercussions. It addresses the plight of men who embark on journeys to Russia in pursuit of economic gains, only to never return; their wives endure lives of perpetual widowhood even as their husbands remain alive, and heart-wrenchingly, there are those women who suffer in silence, burying their own existence along with their aspirations. The film also portrays the harrowing reality of children growing up fatherless.

The narrative centers around Gabil (portrayed by Samimi Farhad), who had ventured to Russia years ago, and his sudden, unexpected return to the village he departed from. He reunites with his family and shares a few days of cherished togetherness. Just as the family begins to embrace a renewed sense of happiness and security, tragedy strikes with a cruel blow, shattering their optimism as Gabil once again vanishes into thin air…

“Pomegranate Orchard” isn’t the inaugural exploration of this subject matter within Azerbaijani cinema. In 2002, director Mirbala Salimli’s short feature film “Arm in Arm with Flame” also delved into the same theme. Yet, while “Arm in Arm with Flame” approached the issue with a melodramatic touch, “Pomegranate Orchard” opts for a more authentic, realistic portrayal. The film’s tone is evoked in a dispassionate manner, devoid of overt emotional manipulation or pressure. Close-up shots are sparingly employed throughout the film, maintaining a distinct boundary between the characters and the camera. Even in pivotal moments, this boundary remains unbreached, treating all characters impartially. This deliberate approach ensures that, in nearly every scene of intense psychological depth or jubilation, no individual stands isolated before the lens; these instances are thoughtfully captured through panoramic shots and in-frame montage techniques.

Within the realm of “Pomegranate Orchard,” the camera assumes the role of a silent observer, positioned at a subtle remove, situated a step or two away. It frames the unfolding events through the lens of trees, windows, riverside vistas, and roadside perspectives. From these vantage points, the narrative unfolds, leaving the audience to assume the role of adjudicator.  

Yet, beneath the overt social discourse lies an underlying stratum within “Pomegranate Orchard.” It has a deeper subtext- “Pomegranate Orchard” is about conviction. Here, the central theme isn’t one of guilt or innocence, of right or wrong. Instead, it intricately weaves a tapestry of individuals irrevocably tethered to their destined paths. In this cinematic tapestry, there are no villains or heroes; there exist only people ensnared by the inexorable threads of their own fate.

Sara has been trapped in the life she was born into, solely because of her gender. This condemning fate has been her reality since day one. Strangely enough, her actions hint that she hasn’t been coerced into her marriage – she might even harbor genuine affection for her husband. This probably explains why she doesn’t entertain the idea of causing a ruckus, let alone rebelling or protesting. She’s simply focused on diligently carrying out her obligatory responsibilities. Interestingly, Ilaha Hasanova, the actress portraying this character, skillfully weaves together the innermost desires of her role with the innate gentleness expected of a rural woman. Through subtle facial expressions and delicate gestures, Hasanova crafts a portrayal that feels authentic and complete, effortlessly melding passion and docility. This results in a truly natural and unforgettable depiction that leaves a lasting impression, regardless of the scenario.

Shamil (played by Gurban Ismayilov) was also doomed – to rectify the errors of his sole offspring and take care of his forsaken family. Remarkably, Shamil’s predicament was a self-imposed sentence, born from his unwavering paternal emotions. This inner resolve led him to consent to the sale of his beloved garden—a cherished sanctuary he had nurtured throughout his lifetime. In a poignant twist, he stipulated that a portion of the proceeds be securely deposited in his grandson’s name at the bank. This gesture, driven by his fatherly instincts, was taken even as his son claimed an improved situation in Russia, asserting substantial wealth.  

However, among all of them, Gabil bears the most burdensome chain. His shackles are not external, but those of his own crippling fears, which have condemned him in a relentless vice grip. Haunted by the unshakable dread that he’ll forever be held responsible for his brother’s demise twelve years prior, he flees, attempting to escape this shadow. Yet fate beckons him back, this time to rescue his own daughter from the jaws of death. Paradoxically, his trepidation now prevents him from speaking the truth, and unwittingly, he forges his own torment. In this tragic spiral, he inadvertently severs the vital bonds he had so earnestly cultivated throughout the course of the film – his son, to whom he bared his soul, and his father, who had finally begun to rebuild his trust in him.  This newfound trust represented both his potential future and a chance at reconciling his past. Regrettably, his actions now burden him with a lifelong sentence of guilt and remorse, self-imposed convictions that may never find absolution.

And then, there’s young Jalal… His fate forced him into the role of an outsider, a silent observer of unfolding events – peering through the gaps between roof tiles. Yet, unlike the others, a glimmer of agency rests within his grasp. He possesses the power to determine the hue of his existence, whether to paint his life in vibrant shades or muted grays. When faced with painful realities, he wields a unique knowledge – a simple remedy of sorts. He places the bandage given by the doctor over his eyes, shielding himself from the harshness that hurt him. That is all…  

The overarching ambiance in the film “Pomegranate Orchard” remains distinctly pervasive – even the vibrant red of pomegranates and lush green leaves fail to ignite warmth. Paradoxically, it is the prevailing grayness and coldness, coupled with the stark absence of dialogues, that accentuate and amplify the sense of condemnation. These elements, subtly interwoven into the backdrop, work in tandem to intensify the overwhelming atmosphere of bleak fate.

The film “Pomegranate Orchard” employs metaphors like Sarah’s dream, Jalal’s bursting pomegranates against the wall, the dripping of the house on the day the son returns, the names Abel and Cain spoil the surprise. Within the initial ten to fifteen minutes, these metaphorical scenes unfurl almost sequentially, creating a sense of directness. This transparency, however, inadvertently dilutes their impact and causes a deceleration in the film’s tempo.

Interestingly, the movie boasts a dual denouement. Tailored for local audiences, the first culmination portrays Jalal’s eye miraculously healing, Shamil acquiring a new parcel of land, and Sara, intriguingly, revealed to be pregnant…

Conversely, the alternate ending crafted for festival showcases takes a more pessimistic turn. In this rendition, Jalal’s eyes remain unhealed; colors blend into an indistinguishable blur, casting pomegranates in a shadow of blackness…

The initial final decision aligns with the perspective of our officials at the Ministry of Culture, an alignment I find uncommonly agreeable. However, my concurrence doesn’t stem from Shamil’s endeavor to cultivate a novel garden, nor from Sara’s imminent delivery of a new life, causing all else to fade away. No, the convergence of their fates was inexorable; Shamil’s path destined him to that garden, just as Sara was fated to bring forth that child… The system persists, and anticipating divergent conduct from its captives would indeed be irrational.

Yet, it’s Jalal who solidifies my accord with the Ministry’s stance. He perceives existence through both eyes, comprehending reality in its unadorned form. Could it be that someday he’ll endeavor to dismantle the very system that pronounced judgment upon his forebears? Who’s to say… Hope, as they say, dies last…

Aygun Aslanli

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