Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Little Men
Malen’kie Ljudi aka Petits Gens aka Everyday Folks :
Kazakhstan (Kaz/Fr) 2003 : Nariman TUREBAYEV : 85 mins
Another Edinburgh Film Festival, another French-Kazakh co-production. After the ambitious but soporific Shimkent Hotel in 2003, 2004 brought us a (relatively) lively crowdpleaser in Little Men, the tale of two chancers trying to navigate the choppy waters of the capitalist, post-Soviet era. In an unnamed city – presumably the nation’s “old” Almaty – twentysomethings Max (Oleg Kerimor) and Bek (Enjan Bekmuzatoo) share a pokey student-style flat.
They also work together, hawking assorted bits of tat to their unimpressed fellow citizens. It’s clear that the pair are paid on a commission basis, which means that they have virtually nothing coming in. Bek’s response is to mope around disconsolately – his state of mind isn’t helped by his lucklessness in the romance department. Max is more of a go-getter, irrepressible both at work and at play, with dreams of escape to more lucrative pastures in the west.
We’ve seen this relationship plenty of times before – in life, on TV and in the movies. Little Men takes a predictably low-key, observational, character-based approach to the material. Max and Bek clearly represent contrasting reactions to the arrival of capitalism: hucksterish, hustling optimism on the one hand (and isn’t this type of bloke always called Max?); glum self-pity on the other (Bek admits he has “no charm”). As usual in this kind of ‘new Europe’ movie, the only viable solutions presented are different forms of flight: Max to his “relatives” in Germany, Bek back home. Turebayev can’t bring himself to be too harsh on his ill-matched heroes: there’s a “soft” ending for both of these “casualties of progress”, and while the film doesn’t attempt to defend or justify the racket in which they’re involved, we’re a long way from any kind of Kazakh Glengarry Glen Ross.
The script feels a touch too worked-over, a little too schematic, and the visuals are unappealingly flat. But there’s some diverting local colour on show, both in the recognisably Soviet architecture, and also in Kazakhstan’s easygoing, taken-for-granted racial mix. Put the two together, and you get a strain of genuine poignancy which periodically elevates this otherwise rather unremarkably film-festival-friendly material.
3rd October, 2004
(seen 22nd August : UGC Edinburgh : press show – Edinburgh Film Festival)
click HERE for our full coverage of the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival
by Neil Young