Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Pamir, krisha mira / Pamir, Roof of the World

Pamir, krisha mira (SU 1927), D: Vladimir Yerofeyev. Photo: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.

Памир, крыша мира / [Pamir, il tetto del mondo]. SU 1927, dir, ed: Vladimir Yerofeyev, photog: Vasilii Beliayev, prod: Sovkino. DCP (from 35 mm, 2008 m), 71′; titles: RUS. Source: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano and violin: Günter Buchwald.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 3 Oct 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova (GCM 2017): "Film-maker Vladimir Yerofeyev (1898-1940) was a pioneer of expedition cinema in the Soviet Union, advocating for increased attention and investment in edifying non-fiction films made to win the interest of broad audiences. Pamir. Roof of the World, 1927, is his second feature film, and the first resulting from an expedition (his debut that same year, Za poliarnym krugom [Beyond the Arctic Circle] was a co-edited compilation film). In summer 1927, a trek to the mountainous Pamir region, known as the “Roof of the World”, in present-day Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, was organized by the Sovkino studio in co-operation with the Geological Committee. Yerofeyev worked with prominent geologist Dmitrii Nalivkin and ethnographer Mikhail Andreyev; both scholars had extensively researched the area and contributed to the planning for the crew’s journey."

"The film opens with an animated map presenting the itinerary. Starting off in Moscow, the symbolic center of the new empire, it leads through Samara and Orenburg to Tashkent, Osh, and further on to the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. Following a tracking shot from the moving train, the crew is shown arriving in Osh, in present-day Kyrgyzstan, the expedition’s base, where where the camera records fragments of town life: a picturesque bazaar, veiled women in the streets, and the expedition’s crew, horses, and camels, along with their heavy loads. After leaving Osh, the crew crosses the Taldyk Pass, and makes its first stop in the Alay Valley. Subsequent segments feature different elements of the trek, including crossing mountain rivers, traversing snowy passes, and descending into valleys in bloom, emphasizing the expedition’s progress. In the Alay Valley the camera records the practices of the Kyrgyz nomads – constructing a tent, keeping goats, sheep, and horses, making dairy products, and working a traditional one-shuttle weaver’s loom. The community is presented as traditional and self-sufficient. The film avoids picturing the Kyrgyz nomads as “dependent” or “primitive”, but shows them as masters of their space and a community connected to the outside world."

"Further on towards the border with India, the crew and the audience observe spectacular mountain panoramas. Leaving the plateau, the group enters a Tajik village at the foot of the Pamirs. Compressing different elements of community life into a single episode, the film introduces summer herding practices, when the women take the cattle up to summer pastures while the men stay behind to look after the household. Yerofeyev also zooms in on religious customs: the Tajiks of Western Pamir belong to the Ismailian sect and worship a “living god”, the Aga Khan, whom we see in a photo wearing a fancy European-style suit. The film’s matter-of-fact attitude to presenting religious beliefs stands in contrast to the mainstream Soviet pattern of straightforward derogatory representations of religion. The scenes of religious practices are tendentiously followed by images of unconscious opium-smokers. The narrative contrasts the “prejudices” with the “new shoots” of the time – pioneers marching with a drum, women without veils, a new school where a teacher holds a lesson, and indeed a low-angle shot of a bust of Lenin. Overcoming the snowy paths by driving their horses to the tune of a local guide’s flute, the crew finally enters Dushanbe, the capital of Soviet Tajikistan, after having covered 2,000 kilometres."

"The observations of city life include men in robes, donkeys on the streets, and local craftsmen in the bazaar. The crew boards the plane to return to Moscow, where the record of their journey across a rich region is pieced together. The final result demonstrates the interaction of various cultures not yet fully streamlined to the requirements of the uniformed all-Soviet world."

"Breaking the established convention of the invisibility of the traveller, Yerofeyev himself makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film, energetically shaking hands with a local merchant. For all its brevity, the appearance of the director encapsulates the ambiguity of the relationship between the film-maker and his subjects.
" Oksana Sarkisova

AA: A documentary record of a stunning expedition, Pamir is also a distinguished mountain film: the Pamir mountains are among the highest in the world, to the northwest from the Himalayas, to the north from the Karakoram and Hindu Kush. The itinerary is illustrated as animation.

Via the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, and Tashkent we reach the ancient city of Osh in the Ferghana Valley. The expedition is big. Horses carry heavy loads. The trek proceeds higher and higher. We enter the Taldyk Pass.

We meet Kirghiz nomads. A dairy farm is the basis of their existence. Cheese is produced from sheep milk. Kumis is being produced and consumed. Fur is processed, carpets are rolled, weaving is going on. There is a mobile medical center. Trachoma and syphilis are among the diseases treated. Children's eyes are cured.

Magnificent snow-capped mountain tops are sighted. The caravan reaches the Alay valley. Kyzylart is the last stand before the route to "the top of the world". There is a sacred site above. We are near the border to Afghanistan, India (today Pakistan), and China. Pamir is "the knot of the worlds", the greatest mountain range to the north of Hindu Kush. (Hindu Kush in our times ominously known as the hideaway of the Taliban and Al Qaeda).

We observe immense glaciers and moraines. An incessant strong wind grows into a whirlwind. Over the centuries, the wind has created whimsical shapes in the rock. The caravan proceeds in the barren landscape. There are snow fields that have not melted in decades. (I wonder how it is today). We observe firns.

We reach Karakul Lake (Black Lake), 4100 meters above the sea level. We observe ancient remains. There is 1000 year old ice. (Again, I wonder how it fares today). We enter the Zor-Tash-Kul Ridge. Faces need to be covered with vaselin. Extremes of temperature are met. A Sovkino tent is being erected. There is a "film on film" element. Hazards of film-making include the fact that liquids turn to ice at night. In the thin air water boils at a lower temperature. Geological research is being conducted. Iron ore is detected. There are flowers on the Pamir. A kitchen is set up. The camp is covered with snow. The dog catches marmots. One must wear masks and glasses for protection.

There are people living on the Pamir. We visit a village (aul) and observe a yak (kutas), a source of food, with a broad chest and thick fur. The yak is also a means of transportation. A yurta is smoky, cold and cirty. There are many children in the village, few elderly. All chores are done by women. Men prefer to do nothing. Occasionally they go hunting. The muftuk rifles are antediluvian, made in China. It takes at least ten minutes to prepare the rifle for use. A mountain goat is shot. Blood is smeared on the rifle. Ancestors are honoured. The graveyard is the richest place in the village.

Murghab is the center of commerce with China. There is a Kashgarian restaurant and a health resort with boiling sulphuric springs and hot springs spas.

The caravan's journey continues towards Hindu Kush, the Indian (today Pakistanian) border, in Western Pamir. From perennial snow we come to wild rivers. Liangar is the first Tajik village. Yarn is being wound, music is being played. We come to Pyandzh (today Dusti), to ancient Tajik villages. The Tajik have cleverly cultivated every piece of land. They bring soil from the river bank and spread it over stones. There is an irrigation system. Before spring the Tajik feed on grass. Later, there is mulberry season. Dried berries are ground into flour. Women work at summer pastures up in the mountains. Butter is churned. Men stay at villages doing women's chores. Carpets (palas) are woven. Prospectors look for gold in ravines. Gold is being panned off through sieves with sheepskin. When men come together their hands never stop moving for a minute.

There is a sect worshipping Aga Khan as a living god, his representation the Ishan. There is a prayer at the holy place, Mazora.

Opium is smuggled from Afghanistan. There is an open air school. The children already know Lenin. There is a statue of Lenin.

The Panj River (here the Pyandzh River) is magnificent. Villagers navigate it with gupsare: sheepskin boats inflated with air. It is always very dangerous to cross the river. The caravan continues along the bank of the Panj River. The waterfalls are wild. There are ancient drawings on the rocks. The Slepus fortress is legendary. Footpaths are made of wicker. The mountain paths are perilous. The suspension bridges are shaky. Liangar. The harvest is already ripe. With special handcarts outsized bales are carried, to be ground with a bunch of brushwood. Hay on sleighs. Tambourines (dafi) at the harvest feast. Children are at play, a fashionable lady, a game of marmut is played, men wrestle. There is a partridge fight, a traditional game of chui, and a dance of boys to the music of traditional instruments, also a dance of horse and rider, a comical dance of an old man and a young girl (both interpreted by men). The old man is passionate, the young girl is disinterested. In the end the young girl gives in. There is even a dance of a fox and a marmot, and a hunting dance with a simulated rifle.

Getting down from the Pamir is no less difficult than climbing it. Footpaths are flooded. There is no road. Camels save the day after reloading. There is a strong current in the river. It is negotiated on a raft. Step ladders are perilous. Horses swim. In the district the scourge is the goitre, caused by the river, its water is dangerous for health. Again difficult passages are ahead: Odudi Pass is breathtaking. The landscapes are astounding. The descent is extremely steep. The expedition lands under a waterfall. The pass can only be crossed on foot. The flute is played to time the movement. The peak of the pass is 4,2 kilometers above sea level. There are huge snow plains. We see a glacier in an extreme long shot. We pass through the gorge.

We reach Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, after a voyage of 2000 kilometers. Melons and grapes are ripe at the market. A horse is suffering from skin damage and vermin.

At the airport we board a Junkers air plane.

There are issues of low contrast in the DCP of this film shot in extremely demanding circumstances.

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