Azerbaijani director Ismail Safarali graduated from the Moscow School of New Cinema, many of whose students had their shorts in competitions at Cannes and Locarno this year. In Tekbetek, our short film of the month, it feels that the director is coming close to finding his own language in film.

Tekbetek takes place in a semi-abandoned village in Azerbaijan, bordering Dagestan. Safarali illuminates beauty not only where it is obvious, in the landscape of the region, but also in the faces of the people, in the ways in which they behave and hold themselves together, despite their difficult lives. The whole film is shot on hand-held camera, and follows on the heels of the young protagonist, enabling the audience to observe what is happening through his eyes.

In spite of the boy’s isolation, his inner world does not seem crippled — he has his own secrets, which he treasures dearly in a tin box, his own amusements such as football, which he shares with the boy next door, the only other student of the local school. A very clear picture of their world unfolds in a short space of time. As the director explains, “The film for me is a glimpse into a world imagined by boys, surrounded by all-consuming loneliness, where the only prospect is the view of the mountain on the horizon.” The mystery of the boys’ resilience lies in the title. The direct translation of “Tekbetek” is “one on one”, but in Azerbaijani the phrase could be understood as “by oneself” or “on one’s own” — spanning both independence and loneliness.

Loneliness can be a way to yourself, which is a kind of freedom, but Safarali sees the local way of life rather pessimistically: “Village life is one intense melancholy, that these kids have no chance of escaping. This is where they live, marry and have children. In these kinds of remote villages, 50-70% of the population are related. Even these two boys are cousins in real life. In a typical Azerbaijani village, women do not leave the house and there are only men and old Soviet cars on the streets. Young people dream only of escaping to a big city, where they are not really needed. The story for me is about ruined dreams, which our protagonist doesn’t even know of yet.”

Text: Anton Sazonov

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