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The Mystery Of Ferns

Rachid Malikov, Uzbekistan, 1992; 72m
The story of Malikov's meditative, mysterious and quietly shattering film is simple. A shabbily elegant old man, widowed and treated with matter-of-fact derision by his daughter and his tomboy granddaughter, begins to lose touch with the world. At first it seems to be a matter of temperament, the disengagement of an intellectual from a world that has disappointed him. Then, it seems like pure depression brought on by old age, and he is treated by a foolish, pony-tailed psychiatrist ("You resemble Cherkassov in Ivan the Terrible," the old man remarks). Then, when the man suffers a stroke that renders him mute and erases his memory, he wanders through a ruined Uzbekistan, passing from one devastated landscape to another. What makes Malikov's film so brilliant is the way he edges us into a disturbingly fractured universe. There are no expressionistic tricks or flourishes - his expressive camera simply moves away from the action and passes over chaotic assemblies of random objects, a mirror of the chaos inside the soul of his lonely hero and the soul of his country as well.