Review “Assault”: a black and comic thriller on ice

If sequels, prequels, reboots, spin-offs, team-ups, callbacks, and endless screams have put you off the idea of ​​the “shared cinematic universe,” you haven’t spent enough time in Karatas, the smallest, wildest cinema, strangest crossed microcosm. The fictional village in rural Kazakhstan, populated exclusively by the ignorant, cowardly, comical and corrupt, provided an austere and absurd backdrop to most of the films of prolific Kazakh director Adilkhan Yerzhanov, including his most recent, The dark, funny and bizarre “Assault”. .”

It may not be Yerzhanov’s most essential entry — it’s not the darkest, the funniest, or the scariest — but “Assault” is a fun reminder of his singular sensibilities and ability to miraculous bordering on maintaining a cohesive tone while narrative logic and consistency are very expendable. merchandise. Good taste, too, can be thrown about as casually as one of the stuttered insults that make up about 80% of dialogue. Here, the plot revolves around a hostage situation at a school that directly references real life horrors such as Beslan and Kazan. But it’s set at such an ironic distance from real life (often literally, in vast snowy expanses that reduce people to slippery outlines like in a particularly dark Bruegel) that it renders potential tragedy entirely abstract.

Yerzhanov’s characters have a basic inability to “not sweat the small stuff”. In fact, they’re always so busy sweating the small stuff, the big stuff can walk past them, wearing gruesome masks and brandishing assault weapons, and they won’t notice. In this way, a small squad of gunmen infiltrate the remote Karatas High School one chilly and scary morning, past physical education teacher Sopa (Berik Aitzhanov) and his slow-witted sidekick Turbo ( Daniyar Alshinov), while Sopa shows off his inexpert nunchuck skills to some kids.

The team calmly walks past the school principal (Teoman Khos), berates drunken caretaker Dalbych (Yerken Gubashev), and deliberately drives past music teacher Max (Nurlan Batyrov), arguing over an exposed pipe with homophobic goalkeeper Jamjysh (Nurbek Mukushev). And they glide unnoticed past the bay windows of a classroom; When math teacher Tazshy (Azamat Nigmanov) finally looks up, it’s to meet the eyes of his estranged wife Lena (Aleksandra Revenko) who is here to take custody of their son Daniyal (Timur Muratov), a student in Tazshy’s class.

Denying his petition and locking Daniyal and the other kids in his class, Tazshy launches into illicit smoke, that is, when he hears gunshots, and makes a calamitous and cowardly choice. He robotically exits the school and boards one of the waiting rescue buses, telling Sopa that he got his students to safety while they, including his own child, are still locked up. A few hours later met with the other teachers – some of them who are also parents – in the office of the ineffectual police chief (Nurlan Smayilov), he eventually confessed.

Tazshy must spend the rest of the film atoning for his unforgivable inaction. The frozen mountain pass means a SWAT team will take days to arrive, so Tazshy, suggesting the children are in more imminent danger than he may know (one of those narrative issues that proves how Yerzhanov really cares about the tight plot), recruits the other adults into a petty, bickering, motley crew. Together, they embark on a complex and insane plan to save the children. It’s as if “Assault on Precinct 13” has been remade as a snowy western featuring the chastened daddy of “Force Majeure” and a bunch of drunks and quacks. The scenes of them staggering through the freezing desert on a school-wide plane scraped through the snow have exactly the long-term madness it suggests.

But these scenes – like all “Assault” – are also beautiful. With Aidar Sharipov, his DP “A Dark Dark Man” and “The Sweet Indifference of the World”, Yerzhanov’s eye for inventive choreography and striking compositions has never been sharper. He must be among the greatest practitioners of the impasse, of the asymmetrical symmetry, of the funny interruption. And his cinephilia, while not as central as in his photo of tragicomic lovers on the run “Yellow Cat”, is also in evidence, not only in the referenced films, but in subverted genre conventions. . A confessional moment, in which Dalbych, the Dean-Martin-in-“Rio Bravo” drunk, sobs over his backstory and the others refuse to do the same, feels like a straight parody of all those fireside chats. of camp in cowboy films, when laconic men of action share nocturnal confidences before the big confrontation.

But then, while some members of the team have a moment to shine, “Assault” isn’t really about comfortable self-actualizing arcs. Despite his apparent straight-faced amorality, he is highly moral and, as an equal-opportunity expose of the hypocritical machismo of Kazakh society, his heart is as dark as his humor. Welcome to Karatas, where none of those who make it out alive are unscathed.

About Cecil Cobb

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