Highway AND Paradise

Moscow-trained Sergey Dvortsevoy directed these two documentaries set in Kazakhstan. Highway (1999) follows a family of scrappy acrobats as they travel from one steppe outpost to the next in a cramped, beat-up minibus, performing feats of strength for curious villagers. Their existence is quiet, routine, and nearly joyless, yet enthralling moments of grace—the boys capture a hawk for a pet, the mother eases her brood to sleep humming a cradle song—perturb the film's placid surface like ripples moving across a pond. Only a documentarian with Dvortsevoy's sense of form could end with the father showing his frustrated oldest son how to crank up the bus engine for the next journey. Paradise (1995) documents the lives of a nomadic shepherd and his family in the southern Kazakhstan valleys. Again Dvortsevoy establishes an unobtrusive and lyrical style with observant tableaux (a cow getting its head stuck in a pail, the shepherd bludgeoning a camel's nose to put a ring through it) and finds a perfect closing image (sheep being herded into the hissing wind) to celebrate the family's perseverance.

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