Darejan Omirbaev (Kazakhstan)

Duration: 75 min

Years: 1995


May 15, 2020 - June 23, 2020

Jasulan, a shepherd’s son, has a heart condition. His mother brings him to a sanatorium located in the mountains near the capital of Kazakhstan and leaves him there for a month. This drama of a provincial boy is compounded by the fact that he does not speak Russian.

Darejan Omirbaev

Kardiogramma: a film about children not for children

The happy laughter of children, innocent fun, boys and girls filled with a strong heroic spirit – films about children are full of these things. But is this the reality? Childhood is the beginning of the path, when everything is learned for the first time – not necessarily bad, no, just real. This is what Darejan Omirbayev wanted to show in the film Kardiogramma


Aziza Pulatova, CCA LAB participant

How the tea party led to the movie

Darezhan Omirbayev was born in 1958 to the family of a mathematician. Thanks to his father, he developed an initial interest in this science, which, although he has parted from professionally, always goes hand in hand with it in his way of thinking. Having good teachers and an innate interest in mathematics, Darezhan Karazhanovich  developed his abilities – he was able to graduate from school with a gold medal and got accepted to KazSU faculty of applied mathematics. However, after a year of training, he felt that this was not his calling – in addition to pure mathematics, which he loved so much,  he became familiar with computational mathematics (computer languages), and this interest also gradually waned. A new passion took over his heart – films.

Losing interest in mathematics, Darezhan Omirbayev spent more time in the cinema Tselinny near the university. There he saw the first film that touched him with its atmosphere – The Key That Should Not Be Handed On by Dinara Asanova. It was after this experience, as recognized by Darian Karganovic, that he became a serious film enthusiast. However, the interest in mathematics still lives – for some time after graduation, he even worked as a math teacher. 

"Mathematics makes a person modern. It is the queen of science. It develops the mind and gives one a modern system of thinking. I sometimes try to communicate with people who did not go through math school – they have such confused thinking; one sentence contradicts another. And in the end, it is not clear what the person wanted to say. Mathematicians are different", – Darezhan Omirbayev on noting the importance of mathematics.

Once, when Darejan Omirbayev was having lunch with his sister, a piece of newspaper stuck to the wet spot of the teapot pushed him to an important event. As Darezhan Karazhanovich says, thanks to the Kazakh image of tea drinking in an almost lying down form, he was able to see the word in an ad in a wet newspaper, which was accidentally lifted along with the teapot. And the word was movie. It was an advertisement for the filmmakers’ assistants’ course in Almaty. Immediately, he pulled out the ad and sent an application to the address with his stories and drawings. In defiance of his family, he gave up his job as a mathematician and started his creative career. Thanks to his successful training in these courses, he was accepted to the GIC in Moscow in the Kazakh film workshop to study with Sergei Solovyov. However, after some time, Darezhan Omirbayev felt that he did not share the same vision as his professor, so he decided to continue studying at the faculty of film studies.

Cinema is not a theater

Although studying at GIC gave an impulse to Darezhan Omirbayev, he considers the screen to be his main teacher. One of the main advantages of studying at GIC, according to him, was that he could watch films there that he would not be able to see anywhere else outside. Students were allowed to order pictures for group viewing, and one day Darejan Omirbayev persuaded his group to watch a film by Robert Bresson: A Man Escaped. However, to his surprise, none of his classmates liked this film – they were even offended that he had requested to watch this particular film. For Darejan Omirbayev himself, this film, as well as the very introduction to the work of Robert Bresson, were crucial in his creative path.

“He revealed to me that cinema is not a theater, it is a completely different art, in which you can do without acting, without a theatrical plot, theatrical drama. In this regard, you can call Robert Bresson my teacher – in the sense that he showed me that movies can be made in a different way, not like most. That a movie is not a theater at all, and should even be as far away from it as possible. It helped me. However, the point is not to shoot as someone else, even if that person is great. The main thing is to find your own way. I hope I found it. But at the beginning of the path, it is very important to find your own direction, not to be afraid of the thoughts that you have. If your thoughts differ from what is considered correct, you are afraid. But filmmakers like Bresson show that you can make movies in a different way and not be afraid to experiment.”

How the film was created

It was 1994. As Darezhan Omirbayev says, the time was difficult, but interesting. The Soviet Union collapsed, and the new society had not yet been formed. In this difficult interval, the filmmakers were very lucky – they had something to do and means to live on. Even in difficult years, the country did not stop funding movies – the state allocated funds for shooting 2-3 pictures a year. Thanks to the success of his first film Kairat at the Locarno festival, Darezhan Omirbayev got the funding to shoot Kardiogramma. However, this does not mean that everything went smoothly – the shooting process was stopped, interrupting the film in the middle of shooting for an indefinite time. However, everything that is done is for the best – Darejan Karazhanovich emphasizes that this difficulty helped to make the picture visually contrasting, since the second part of the frames was shot in winter. According to him, there were few good films with winter frames, and he, moreover, managed to cover several transient seasons, which reflected well on the overall impression of the picture.

So what is the film itself about? As it turned out, the story is autobiographical. Darezhan Omirbayev had problems with angina as a child, and in the second grade, after an operation to remove the tonsils, his parents sent him, like Zhasulan, to a sanatorium for children with health problems. He spent about a month there, and just like the main character of the film, he encountered a language barrier. Autobiography also has a place in the theme of mother-son bond.

“I am the only son in the family and have always been very connected with my mother – in both good and bad ways, a mama's boy. So, I once stood in Almaty, waiting for a bus, and at the stop there was a young mother with a child of three or four years old. The mother was distracted, reading a newspaper, I think. And the boy ran around and could not get very far away from his mother, because he was connected to her by some invisible threads. I looked from the outside and felt that this is one organism consisting of two bodies. Then I realized that I can make a movie about this relationship".

Another important impulse to create the picture was the realization that you need to make a film about children that is serious, with all the inherent experiences. Darezhan Omirbayev drew emotional inspiration from Kuprin's story Cadets and the story of Hermann Hesse Beneath the Wheel which is about a child in an orphanage. 

“What is usually written and filmed about childhood is something fun, filled with children's fun. They are usually not very serious. Movies about children are usually made for children. But it seems to me that Kardiogramma is not for children, it is for adults”.

Ability to see

Zhasulan doesn't speak Russian and doesn't understand it. Usually, when a person cannot use one of the five basic senses, the other senses are significantly enhanced. Thus, one of the reasons to include the main character in a film who has a language barrier was the desire to show the world much deeper through visual perception.

“The film is also about the role of words and eyes – and for me, the ability to see is much more important than to speak. Due to the fact that the hero of the film is forced to remain silent because of the language barrier, he is forced to watch more. Thus, his main tool for communicating with the world is not language, but the eyes. In our Kazakh culture, the language and the ability to speak are essential. It's always been like this. Perhaps painting and other forms of fine art were not very developed in our country because of the nomadic lifestyle. Backwardness in these areas of art is a big problem related to the rule that the main art is the ability to speak. We have to give it up.”

Darezhan Omirbayev also emphasized the importance of the ability to see in one of the most remarkable shots, which was later repeatedly noted by film critics – this is a long shot of the bus that is supposed to take Zhasulan to the city.

“Here I wanted to shoot an experimental risky shot in a sense. The experiment was to keep the viewer in a state of tension, to be alert. The situation itself is taken from personal life. I am generally a person from the village, and when we went somewhere, to the city, we waited for the bus. And here you are, waiting for the bus and seeing a dot appear. And you don't know if it's a bus, or if it's a truck, or if it's a completely different object. And then gradually the contour of the bus appears, and you have special emotions. You wonder what the bus will be like - full, which is impossible to get on, or empty, which promises a pleasant trip. I wanted to try to express emotions without words".

Many years later after the success of the film at a number of international festivals, Darejan Omirbayev once went to New York for The Days of Central Asian Cinema. There was a screening of the film Kardiogramma. After the screening, the film critic Ken Jones approached Darejan Karazhanovich, noted the similarity of a frame to a scene from the Hitchcock film North by the Northwest and assumed that Darejan Omirbayev was probably inspired by this scene. However, he saw the film itself only after a trip to New York to find out whether the similarity was intended. As Darejan Omirbayev says, the scene may be similar, but the meaning is completely different. And in general, as he stressed earlier, “The point is not to shoot as someone else, even if that person is great. The main thing is to find your own way.”

Returning to the importance of the ability to see, the picture was originally going to be called Voyeur, but the studio did not understand it. As he says, firstly, it was probably because the word is foreign and not familiar, and secondly, again, because people did not particularly care whether a person was watching or listening.

Is there a form of Central Asian cinema?

During the interview, I asked Darejan Karazhanovich how He could describe the form of Central Asian and Kazakh cinema of the 90s. However, after his answer, I realized that the question was ill-considered, and even tactless. Darezhan Omirbayev is against generalizing authors as a group, dragging them under one wing for no obvious reason. After all, all creators are individuals. And someone may not be a true Creator at all. So, what are these generalizations?

“Like any filmmaker, I am concerned when someone generalizes talents taking the group as a whole. It's like asking about the average temperature of patients in a hospital. Each patient has their own temperature. So do the filmmakers have their own tragedy, individuality, and feelings. What can I say about the movies of the 90s – they have different features, and I am a little offended when films of the 90s are compared to my works. First, you need to determine whether the author has the ability to direct or not, whether he is talented. And if the film never took place, then the filmmaker is more of a pseudo-filmmaker, then there is no point in talking and comparing.” 

However, Darezhan Omirbayev adds that he cannot but recognize the objective possibility of some common angles, since the film reflects the general trends and processes taking place in the region at a certain time. The main feature associated with cinema in Kazakhstan at that time was that censorship disappeared and funding continued. In this interval (from the 90s to the 2000s), the authors were able to shoot their main films without fear of being censored or not. Since censorship was no longer an issue at that time, the filmmaker was given freedom of expression.

“The years were good for filmmakers; we could shoot freely without censorship, and what is more our films were financed. And all this was called the Kazakh new wave, but the name is incompetent. There was French new wave, so why repeat. Besides, I don't like being pushed around. Although there might be common features in films, I hope that this is not the main thing.”

Another feature Darejan Karazhanovich considers is a common problem – a single film distribution broke up, which is why many films of that time did not reach an audience. At least not on a large scale. Kardiogramma also could not be screened– as Darezhan Omirbayev says, during the period of reforms, since people weren't interested in movies. In the period between the 90s and 2000s, life expectancy in the former Soviet Union decreased by 10 years. That is, in general, people had many other worries.

For the novice filmmakers

Darezhan Omirbayev gives instructions and advice to young filmmakers:

“First of all, I would say, don't give up. Because now, every year and month, there is very strong pressure from mass culture; there are a lot of channels and TV series. The audience mostly stares at a TV and [genuine] film lovers are becoming less and less. Among all this, it is important not to give up, to make your own film, the idea of which you carry near your heart. Develop your own style, don't get lost in the movie trash. It is not easy for young filmmakers now – there is still financial pressure. It was easier for us. And now you know that you need to return the money after shooting a movie, and for this you need to have your movie watched, and the audience does not want to watch it – they watch movie trash, to which they are taught from an early age. It is difficult for a modern filmmaker to find money even for a short film. Therefore, I would like to wish them first of all to find strength and reserves in themselves. And also, to have good luck with them.

Secondly, I would advise them to see the differences between cinema and theater. There is a great danger from the theater. Because cinema is the language of images and sounds, not actors, theatrical drama. We need to stay away from the theater. 

Third, to develop a cinematic language, I would recommend reading Japanese triplets, haiku. This is not poetry. These are small movies. Then they will save you from the literary view on the screen. This is a very useful school. In ancient Japan, there was no cinema, and Japanese cinematographers made their films using these three lines. What is it really? The first line is the first shot, the second line is the second shot. And the third is what is born from editing the first two shots. Lines - thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. They are never abstract, but objective, and develop the ability to see, listen, and get to the point.”