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A mother of four and family must survive a winter at their remote Kazakhstan home when her husband goes missing

By Margaret Chrystall

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IN a remote Kazakhstan community, a mother calls out her husband’s name walking through head-high grass in the snowy grassland near her isolated home.

It’s the start of a strange time for Mariam who reports her husband missing to the police.

“He never left us before. His mobile is off – something is wrong,” she tells the policeman who is reluctant to start a search as the man has only gone to the city on his horse the day before.

But there is a slow, anxious wait for Mariam who must feed her four children and keep their basic life going through the winter with no money.

Slowly we see her confidence grow and a helpful former childhood friend does what he can.

In this film we see in detail the tough daily life Mariam and her family face with no amenities – she kills and prepares a sheep, the film-maker Sharipa Urazbeyeva making a quiet meditation of the scene, as she does with the mother playing with her baby or the family eating by oil lamp.

Mariam with her childhood friend Mukhtar.
Mariam with her childhood friend Mukhtar.

The landscape gets under your skin, a quiet snowy wasteland, Mariam returning from town walking across with her shopping bags, a quiet progress across a full, white screen in real time.

The director lets us hear the quiet too – the sound of cattle’s hooves crunching across the snow.

And you see the simple pleasures enjoyed by the family – the baby’s smiles as he is bathed in front of the stove, Mariam making time to rub cream into her face and hands.

These domestic scenes are lyrical

But life has a twist for her.

Without giving away a massive plot spoiler, Mariam is caught in a moral dilemma that also leaves plenty of mystery about what her life was previously like with her husband. And the possibilities of where the film might have ended almost make the chosen version a cop out.

The performance of actress Meruert Sabbusinova is low-key but compelling. Her steady-gazed look into the camera as she returns crying from identifying a body that may be her husband’s, is one of the strongest images in a film that brings us full circle.

What happens: Mother Mariam reports her husband missing after he mysteriously fails to return after a trip to the city from their remote Kazakhstan home. Mariam struggles to feed her children and keep their small farm going. But husband Serikbay has one more surprise.

Who for: Those who like to see how life is lived in a distant land.

Best quote: Former schoolfriend Mukhtar to Mariam: “I just noticed that your eyes are beautiful.”

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