Merci Bakou #7 – Cinema: A list of must-see Azerbaijani short movies!

If you have been following this blog for several years now, you probably now that I am a real cinema enthusiast with a kink on short-movies 😉 Why shorts more specifically than feature-length? Well, to be honest, I am not sure. It all started with my time as a member of Coupé Court Festival team in Bordeaux, and then, it never left me.

I like short movies because they are usually made by young emerging directors who are still working on their skills. They are therefore a concentration of their personalities, their talents, coupled with a low budget, which makes the whole thing kind of raw and exciting.

Speaking of raw, an example is Julia Ducournau, Palme d’Or at Cannes Festival 2021 with her movie Titane – well, her first feature length before Titane was Raw (which I find amazing, even more than Titane) and her first short before that was Junior – WELL (sorry I am always too long to get to the point, I know!) the Junior short-movie has all main characteristics of future Julia Doucournau movies and it is very interesting to be able to follow a director’s progress in that regard. You can watch Junior with English subtitles here.

Not to be chauvinist, there would be a lot to say about French Cinema – but today I am all about to tell you about something you probably never had the chance to encounter just yet: Azerbaijani cinema!

Azerbaijani cinema is still emerging and as far as I have understood, independent directors are really struggling as there are not so many funds that have been allocated to independant cinema production in the recent years. Moreover, unlike their neighbors, and more specifically Georgia which has a really booming cinema scene, Azerbaijan hasn’t signed agreements with the main funds providers such as the Europe Creative Program, Eurimages Fund or even a coproducing partnership with the main co-producer worldwide (guess who? Yes that’s us Frenchie boyzzz). But let’s hope that this will change and that Azerbaijan can really develop their 7th art in the near future!

Despite lack of funding, lack of support and basically lack of everything, independant cinema is still being made for better or worse thanks to the dedication and passion of a few, which makes me very (very!) happy. I investigated the topic during my time in Baku and I can tell you two things: first, watching local movies is really an amazing tool to understand a culture you are in, and two, Azerbaijan cinema has some great potential and there will be a time when the world will have the chance to see it.

Now let’s cut the talking and get back to our topic: here is a list of must-see Azerbaijani short movies!

Yes, you’ve heard this title before and no, this has nothing to do with it. Nor with the Chinese city Shanghai. « Shanghai » is actually a neighborhood located in the outskirts of Baku. It was nicknamed like this because the train used to pass right in-between the houses (or, more probably, the houses got randomly constructed right next to the rails). One day, the German director Veit Helmer comes to shoot his new movie, The Bra, and Leyli Gafarova is working on the set. Sometimes, she’s recording behind the scenes images. From them she created « Once upon a time in Shanghai », a really fascinating and joyful (which is rare) documentary that will help you understand how it is for artists to create in Azerbaijan.

Call me naïve, but the first time I watched The Chairs, I was so impressed by the simplicity and at the same time cleverness of the device that I thought « is that a real thing? ». Well, spoiler alert, it’s not. I still do find the concept quite original and, believe me, only a great creative mind can have this kind of idea. Besides chairs, The Chairs is about love, the impossible kind, nevertheless even more real as it exists only in silence.

  • A Woman by Tahmina Rafaella (2020, 13 min)

What is it to be a woman in modern days Baku? When one has to juggle with being a wife, a mother, a daughter and a worker, all in the same day? Tahmina Rafaella depicts a day into the life of Leyli, a young Azerbaijani woman handling daily-life unforeseen situations, taking care of her duties as best as she can. Far from easy criticism, A Woman gives a very balanced approach and tries to reach this difficult nuanced vision – with great success. Although I think the audience is still waiting to know what Leyli’s idea was :).

From a real (although old and mostly forgotten nowadays) tradition into a short-movie, The Second Bullet is a story about how others’ opinion can affect people’s life in rural areas – here, rural Azerbaijan – in a burlesque though tragic manner.

Murad Abiyev is not only a great director, he is also a French speaker, a cinema history specialist and, above all, a very nice person. He started cinema a bit late and therefore didn’t have the chance to make as many movie as the world deserve, but The Salty Sea Dog is in my opinion one of his best shorts, thanks to a story full of colors, symbolism and subtility.

As I told you before, I am a little bit naïve and again, I got carried away by Azerbaijani director Imam Hasanov and his story about a cow called « Madonna ». I asked Imam, hopeful : « is it really a documentary ? » but turns out it’s complete fiction. This is how it is. Imam Hasanov likes to mix genres in his cinema and creates docu-fiction, docu-fantasy, docu-anything except documentaries actually. He also organizes « DokuBaku Festival » every year.

It took me two screenings to be able to enjoy to its full extent Biləsuvar by Elvin Adigozel. Right from the beginning you can feel that things are not going to be simple, and don’t expect any happy ending. The struggle of the main character is as real as Elvin’s struggle to create his movies. As a proud Azerbaijani independant filmmaker, fighting for his passion from his village, we can only be impressed by his determination and wish him success.

Last but not least, Towards Evening is a story where silence makes us uncomfortable, as we feel through the film how communication between the two protagonists is difficult. On the road to a family gathering, stuck in traffic, where else to realize that something is broken?

I hope this small movie selection was interesting for you! Maybe some titles are already not the most recent ones as it took me a lot of time to finally publish this article, but at least it will allow you a short excerpt inside Azerbaijani independant film production 🙂

Don’t hesitate to share below your favorites so we can improve this list! See you!

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