Harmony Lessons, or the frozen face of discipline
With Harmony Lessons, Emir Baigazin offers us a perfectly mastered work of remarkable intelligence and execution. With 17 awards to its name, including the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the 2013 Berlinale and a Special Jury Mention at Tribeca, this co-production between Germany, France and Kazakhstan has well and truly earned its inclusion in Walk this Way’s Award Winning Dramas collection and will be available on video on demand from 28 November.
The beauty of the images in Harmony Lessons, impressive from the very first scenes, is reflected in the calm face of his young protagonist, Aslan, a solitary and silent boy who hides in a meticulous world composed of insects, which he subjects almost scientifically to his experiments, and repeated ablutions meant to wash away his schoolmates’ bullying, which has made him a pariah.
The liquid element is omnipresent here, not only because of its purifying nature (Aslan also compulsively drinks entire jugs of fresh water), but also because it evokes contamination and evil, like urine in jars, vomit, and also blood which, from the beginning, gushes forth from the impassive hand of the little hero, slitting the throat of a sheep.
The film’s aesthetic aspects serve, as they should, to reinforce an impeccably articulated message about the discipline imposed on Aslan, as on the other schoolchildren. Uniforms, rulers mercilessly whipping everything that is out of place, lessons delivered by robot-like teachers: everything is intended to contain the human being, to prepare children for a society that will not do them any favours.
It is hardly surprising that Aslan’s school is like a microcosm in which all the dynamics of Kazakh society can be found: little mafiosi-like chiefs, who impose their tithes and atavisms on all the other children (in order to help their incarcerated elders as many of them, they say, will also soon be behind bars), religion, individuals who make themselves invisible in order to survive, since they could not really prevail in the Darwinian sense of the word...
Harmony Lessons depicts a universe of terrifying coldness and harshness, a world in which the only smile seen on child’s face is a cruel grin. Childhood is only a ghost that we imagine in our dreams.
Harmony Lessons – Trailer:
24 November 2016, by Cineuropa