Not long ago, Azerbaijani film “Precinct” was shown in U.S., and just yesterday, there even appeared a review from L.A. Times about the movie. I personally would not call it a very positive review, however we all know this – “different people, different tastes”…Below is the actual text of the review.
By by Betsy Sharkey
/Los Angeles Times/
It is not surprising that the idea for “Saha” (The Precinct) came to Azeri writer-director Ilgar Safat in a dream, as much of the film unfolds in a fevered netherworld – a badly lighted police precinct where sins are sorted and fires burn behind doors. But it is in the memories dredged up from the sinner’s past life that the film finds its footing and we see Safat’s creative promise.
The object of the interrogations is a fine art photographer named Garib (Zaza Bejashvili), whose interest in the nude female form has gotten him into trouble since he was a boy in Baku, Azerbaijan, where the film is set. The story is anchored by his actions past and present, with its outcome resting on how, if given a second chance, he will face the future.
At issue is his relationship with women – a fear of commitment that leads him to postpone, yet again, his wedding to Sabina (Melissa Papel). A beautiful young artist whose work evokes the shamanistic petroglyphs painted thousands of years earlier at nearby Gobustan, at the moment she’s driven more by her biological clock. They argue, there is a car wreck and soon the injured couple is bundled off to the precinct, where both they and the filmmaker get lost in that murky world between life and death.
It’s clear that Safat is trying to cover a lot of ground, using Garib’s wrongdoings, and the way in which the devilish police chief (Vahif Ibrahimoglu) parses through them, to pack in a lot of the region’s cultural and social history. But the actors flounder, and the devil gets preachy.
The other half, the better half of Azerbaijan’s Oscar entry in this year’s foreign-language film race, comes in telling the story of the 14-year-old Garib and the experiences that shaped him into the man he is today. Here the history flows effortlessly, and you can see the effects of Safat’s work as a documentary filmmaker.
Baku, or at least what we see of it, is a sun-baked rock-and-rabble town, run by a gang of thugs. Even then, the young Garib, hauntingly played by Timur Odushev, is an observer of life. His afternoons are spent assisting an aging photographer (Ramis Ibragimov); the rest of the time, he takes snapshots of Baku, a camera always around his neck.
In young Garib’s tale, the filmmaker captures both the specifics of the region and the universality of the experience as the boy faces the trials that come in growing up – girls, temptations and how one deals with both. Here, the acting is uniformly solid with a particularly affecting turn by the young beauty Alina (Nina Rakova), parentless, poverty stricken and at the mercy of the gangs. Alina is Garib’s first love and greatest test, an encounter that will shape his emotional and professional life through the film.
Though cinematographers Konstantin “Mindia” Esadze and Vako Karchkhadze worked as a team, “The Precinct” feels like two very different films driven by two distinct visual styles. While purgatory is very unpleasant, and in ways I’m sure the filmmaker didn’t intend, we suffer along with Garib – “The Precinct” satisfies when Safat’s feet are planted on terra firma. If only he had kept the fever dreams to himself.
Saha (The Precinct)
MPAA rating: Not rated; in Azeri and Russian with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes