Aristakisyan's debut, set among the beggar population of his native Kishinev, the capital of Moldavia, takes fundamental issue with the foundations of the post-Soviet madhouse, but would seem challenging in any context. First, its form is unlike any conventional cinematic genre or stratagem. Drafted as a cinematic epistle from the film-maker to his unborn son, it allies individual case studies of several beggars, the visible subjects of the film, with a philosophy of socio-economic degeneration and individual salvation expounded in voice-over through Aristakisyan's counsel to his boy, soon to be 'scooped out' of his mother's womb. Aristakisyan presents a moral and political argument that is complex, alien and enigmatic. Crucial (if undefined) terms here are 'the system' and 'the Spirit'; the former corrupts and suppresses while the latter must be embraced with a stoicism and asceticism akin to that by which the beggars live. Pitched somewhere between Christian dialectical materialism and metaphysical anarchism, Aristakisyan's treatise ranges in tone between mysticism, gnomic utterances and deep pessimism. It's not a funny movie, and too long, but the monochrome photography can be very beautiful and the beggars are filmed with a respect which is neither sentimental nor fatuous.
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