The Marrakech International Film Festival features a stellar line up of international cinema in its programming, offering the chance to watch films you might never have the chance to see. For example, the Azerbaijani film, “Nabat,” which was selected as that country’s Foreign Language Academy Awards submission. Directed by Elchin Musaoglu, and starring Iranian actress Fatemah Motamed-Arya in the titular role, “Nabat” tells the story of one woman’s individual struggle during the war in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s.
Nabat is an elderly woman caring for her sick husband and grieving for her young son killed in the conflict that has villagers fleeing from missiles that rain down at night. Nabat and her husband remain isolated in their house on top of the hill, though Nabat travels the rocky roads by foot to sell milk and gather supplies and news. She’s a doggedly determined person, working tirelessly to look after for her husband and to keep him unaware of the realities of the situation.
Much of the film is hypnotically focused on the endless work that Nabat must do to look after her husband and keep them both going. She milks the cow, harvests potatoes, washes the clothes, feeds and bathes and cooks and cleans endlessly. There is compelling ritual to watching her efforts, her work, and it’s clear that this is the only thing keeping her going. It’s something to focus on, instead of the visions of her son that she clings to, but also sharpens and exacerbates her grief.
Soon, Nabat is all alone. Her husband passed, the village abandoned, she is at a loss because she has lost her purpose, her work. So, she takes up a new task: constantly lighting oil lamps in the buildings of the village, their glowing lights a comfort to her on top of the hill. It gets to be a bit compulsive, and the lamps confound the troops, who thought the village was entirely evacuated, as we hear in a phone call. The end has to be near, in some way for Nabat, she can’t continue on this way.
The film is strangely compelling through its first half, simply observing Nabat’s enormous efforts to survive, but loses that as she starts to drift into her obsessive lamp lighting, the motivation for which remains obtuse. The film also has a weird stylistic tic in the form of long unmotivated camera movements which serve no purpose other than to possibly catch Nabat walking from another angle, or her shadow on a wall, or water dripping in a bucket. If a camera is granted this much autonomy, it is usually to show us something else that grants the audience additional information, and these movements don’t reveal anything new, rather just something else from a different perspective, and therefore feels entirely unearned.
“Nabat” makes for interesting cinema, if only to witness a different part of the world and the filmmaking that it might produce, especially in seeing a national cinema that seeks to represent its own history using experimental and art film techniques (even if they don’t quite work out). Motamed-Arya is entirely convincing in her performance, and even though Nabat doesn’t have much to say or talk about, the actress physically embodies her efforts and emotional state clearly. “Nabat” is distinctive, if bleak. [B]