Abdulladzhan, ili posvyashchaetsya Stivenu Spilbergu [Abdullajon] (1991)

(aka; Abdulladzhan, or Dedicated to Steven Spielberg;
U.F.O. Boy Abdulladzhan)

“I watched a movie yesterday. It’s called “Stalker”. Andrei Tarkovsky made it.

“I understood nothing.

“But I liked it”

And perhaps it will give you a clue to the gentle humor and keen understanding of film underlying Abdullajon if I point out that our unseen and unnamed narrator, reading his letter to Steven Spielberg in comically broken Russian and talking now and then about the movies he’s seen (as well as other things apparently unrelated to the story, like the death of a wasp), tells us about Stalker while the image of grass flowing in a stream, with leaves falling on it and drifting away, fills the screen and lingers there longer than most directors will hold a shot.

If you’ve ever seen one of Tarkovsky’s films, you’ll recognize this is a sly little in-joke, from a director who knows a lot more about film than his comic narrator does.  There haven’t been too many films that have come out of Uzbekistan — in fact, Abdullajon was the first, and its director, Zulfikar Musakov has been one of the leading figures in Uzbek film ever since.  You would hardly guess that this is a first film, as it is beautifully made, with solid editing and cinematography and some nicely quirky visual flourishes, like the opening scene which follows a wasp (I believe it is stop-motion) through a room.

Right from the start, we know that Musakov was inspired by E.T. (because he tells us so), although there is little semblance between his film and the Spielberg classic.  Both involve a stranded visitor from another planet, and what happens when he interacts with the people who find him.

However, in this case it is a collective farm deep in the country, where Abdullajon’s flying saucer crashes and he is helped by Bazarbai, one of the local farmers, who more or less adopts him as his son.

Of course this causes a lot of trouble because Bazarbai’s wife thinks Abdullajon is his illegitimate son, no matter how many times he tries to explain that the boy came from the sky.

But it’s not long before everyone is convinced, thanks to the increasingly miraculous things Abdullajon does for them.

However, the military had been expecting to make contact with the aliens even before Abdullajon arrives, and they’ve been searching for him all along.

This one was made not too long before the end of the Soviet Union, and it’s an interesting glance at life on a collective farm during this era.  It is more like a small village, with the people living modest lives with few possessions, and the chairman of the farm is basically a village Headman or perhaps the mayor of a small village, only with a lot more bureaucracy and occasional orders from Moscow.

Not to mention his own car and driver.

He seems a decent sort of guy, much praised by our unseen narrator, a bit overworked, and, as he always says, no one ever listens to him.  This makes it even stranger when Abdullajon refuses to help him as he helps the others because of the horrific thing he did.

Now, if you are expecting a lot of effects, you are watching the wrong movie.  In fact, there isn’t even a single light on the flying saucer (well, as the narrator points out, it is more of a flying pot).  I suspect this may be sort of a backhanded tribute to Close Encounters, but then, this isn’t the sort of film which really needs a lot of flashy effects. We do get some amusing effects of flying people later on and even a few giant melons.  While the effects aren’t up to the Western standard of the day, they are still reasonably well done and have a nice stylized look to them.

Instead, this is a gentle little comedy which uses its science fictional elements to explore a particular place and time.  It is a story about love, about unexpected consequences, about the difficulties of farming in this arid land, with only a hoe to work with, and the hard life of Japanese manufacturers.

In fact, the strangest thing is that this film is virtually unknown in the West.  It has a bit of a reputation in Russia, but it has rarely been shown here or in Europe.  A recent all-night Japanese film festival featuring Soviet era movies showed this one along with several other films only mildly less obscure, like Kin-dza-dza! and Cosmic Race.  With a little luck, that might get someone over here interested enough to release it on Disk or VOD.  Until then, it’s likely to remain obscure, particularly as the narrator’s broken Russian will make a good translation that much harder.

But, in the meantime, you can watch it on Youtube.

As is…

(My thanks to Jon Whitehead, who runs the incredible movie site, Rarefilmm, for providing me with a subtitled copy of this film!  By all means check out his site, which offers an incredible number of rare and nearly unavailable films)



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



Which this time focuses on Douglas Trumbull’s Other Career

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