WHO is he?

Kazakh film director, screenwriter and film theorist who has directed six feature films and four short films since his debut in 1982. Omirbayev was a mathematician and a math professor before he ventured into the world of cinema and one can find traces of his academic roots in his films as well. His third feature, Killer (1998), won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

It is possible to divide Omirbayev’s cinema into two starkly contrasting phases. The first could be seen as an autobiographical period, in which experiences of childhood, pre-adolescence and youth are depicted with fondness and nostalgia. The second is what could be called an analytical phase — a politically charged period of filmmaking which deals with the socio-political conditions in Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union. The second (and very much ongoing) phase deals with the crises of spirituality in a world and an age increasingly enslaved by the logic of capital.

Style

Omirbayev’s early films about personal experiences employ a poetic mode of filmmaking whose style reflects the subjectivity and limitedness of experience and perception of the characters. While this phase shows influence of Soviet filmmakers Paradjanov, Tarkovsky and Dovzhenko, the second imbibes from the cinema of Robert Bresson. A non-emotive acting style, relegation of key action to off-screen space, an ambient soundtrack that complements the image, a lack of musical score and elliptical storytelling and parenthetical editing patterns characterise these films.

WHY is he of interest?

One of the few internationally renowned film directors from Kazakhstan, Omirbayev is recognised as a pre-eminent chronicler of post-Soviet Kazakh society. But to pigeonhole him into a national or sociological label is to grossly overlook the formal and artistic achievements of his work, which, it could be argued, seeks to forge a link between the ideological ambitions of Italian Neorealist tradition and the spiritual concerns of European art cinema.

WHERE to discover him?

Killer (1998) follows an automobile driver who is forced by dire economic circumstances to resort to unscrupulous means to save his ailing child. This is a crucial, transitional film for Omirbayev, who forgoes lyricism and evocative storytelling for a more episodic and demonstrative approach. Killer, in its controlled artistry and affecting didacticism, is a hugely successful synthesis of Omirbayev the academic and Omirbayev the mathematician.