Harmony Lessons
Harmony Lessons

As the title suggests, Harmony Lessons is less a straightforward narrative than a series of illustrative moments about the Darwinian horrors of adolescence, where the strong eat the weak and the weak must adapt -- sometimes violently -- to survive. It's a spellbinding work that manages to include extended digressions on the laws of physics, Islam and Gandhism in its perverse, profound brew. And right from the opening moments, in which a lush, verdant landscape abruptly gives way to the wintry desolation of the steppe, Baigazin establishes a stunning control of image, tone and subjective reality. After the screening, a colleague complained to me about the tendency of critics to say that a strong debut film is "especially" impressive simply because it is a debut, when in fact some of the most singular movies in cinema history have been firsts, from Zero de conduite (a clear influence on Baigazin) to Citizen Kane to Beasts of the Southern Wild. So allow me to say without qualification that Harmony Lessons announces the arrival of a major talent, from a part of the world where filmmaking is scarce, at a festival that deserves full credit for making the discovery.

Follow Scott Foundas on Twitter @foundasonfilm.
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