The Song Of The Tree

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Song Of The Tree
"This is certainly not the first musical to treat its songs as set pieces and it delivers in terms of action elsewhere, with some thrilling horseback manoeuvres and solid fight scenes." | Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

This charmer of a musical may be set in Kyrgyzstan - the first from the country - but its themes of forbidden romance, ancient curses and the importance of honour in the community are universal.

Aibek Daiyrbekov's film draws on folklore to tell the story of young villager Esen (Omurbek Izrailov) whose love for village chief Bazarbai's daughter Begimai (Saltanat Bakaeva) and rivalry with the less than honourable Oguz (Jurduzbek Kaseivov) leads to exile. Trouble also brews back in the village when a rash decision is made to chop down a sacred tree.

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The story has plenty of subplots and intrigue, including a hunter (Ilim Kalmuratov) who will teach Esen that "you don't learn to fight for revenge" and a costly lesson in humility for Bazarbai, but the love story is its driving force. The songs, composed by Zholdoshbek Apasov, draw on traditional music from the region. Staged in a simple manner by Daiyrbekov, they are a mix of sweet upbeat numbers - with lyrics including, "If our brother-in-law doesn't bring gifts, we'll pull his ears" - through to well-delivered laments.

This is certainly not the first musical to treat its songs as set pieces and it delivers in terms of action elsewhere, with some thrilling horseback manoeuvres and solid fight scenes. These are all set against the dramatic backdrops of rural Kyrgyzstan, with cinematographer Akzhol Bekbolotov making the most of all the seasons on offer, from the rich greens of summer pastures to the orange sands of desert areas and deep snow on the mountainside.

The film doesn't show bloodshed but there are one or two scenes of strongly implied violence - complete with crunching sound effects - that might make it unsuitable for very young children, although older ones will find plenty to enjoy in the film's more adventurous elements. You might not leave the cinema humming a show tune, but you're likely to feel as though you've got a feel for Kyrgyz tradition and its connection to nature.

Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2018
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A musical epic and a romantic parable of a man whose family falls from grace after a tribal feud in a nomadic village.


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