☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
After a relentlessly harrowing debut feature ironically titled Harmony Lessons (2013), the up-and-coming Kazakh auteur Emir Baigazin delivers another depressing portrait of anguished youth with his equally solid sophomore film The Wounded Angel.
Drawing inspiration from the eponymous painting, as well as from the Tampere Cathedral frescoes by the Finnish symbolist Hugo Simberg, he paints the pains of growing up in the steppes of post-USSR Kazakhstan with precise and confident strokes. This time, he teams up with the Belgian cinematographer Yves Cape (Holy Motors), whilst staying true to his rigorous visual style of mostly static, yet brilliantly framed shots which mirror the characters' mental and emotional detachment.
Through four loosely connected chapters depicting inconceivably grim childhoods of pubescent boys, Baigazin explores the themes of guilt and moral corruption against the backdrop of a decaying remote village in the mid 90s. Offering no glimmers of hope for his prematurely grown anti-heroes who appear as both victims and victimizers, he weaves an austerely poetic narrative embedded with strong social commentary. Once again, he assembles the cast of non-pros whose rigid, Bressonian performances intensify the imposing, suffocating atmosphere of sparse dialogue, ruin-porn imagery and absent music.
In the first episode, Fate, a rascal, Zharas, follows in the footsteps of his no-good criminal father, convinced that he can support his mother on petty frauds. Following is The Fall which chronicles the cherub-voiced Chick's 'mutation' from a promising singer into an extortionist bully much alike Bolat from Harmony Lessons. The third and longest section, Greed (which has the looks of a post-apocalyptic drama by virtue of the abandoned factory setting), focuses on an outcast, Toad, who robs a trio of glue-sniffers acting as the figures from the Simberg's work in a bleakly witty live-action 'replica'. And, lastly, comes Sin which deals with an unintended pregnancy and the growing madness of the unborn's father, Aslan, ending on a subtly surreal note.
These wounded, ostracized angels are brought together in a transfixing epilogue which removes them from the harsh reality and lets them have a few deserved moments of (illusory) piece and relief to the sounds of Chick's rapturous rendition of Ave Maria...