SHAMAN (Bartabas, 1996)

Home: What is it? Is it where you come from, to which you try with all your might to return? Or is it your destiny, to find which you must go somewhere else? One of the most beautiful and mysterious Russian films of the post-Soviet era, Chamane does not disclose the full import of its title until the last minute. Only then do we grasp the journey we have been watching unfold.
     The action begins in a Siberian gulag before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two prisoners escape using Yakut horses: wily Anatolia, a shaman with a Jew’s harp, who knows the taiga and its spirits; Dmitri, a Muscovite with a violin, who wants only to go home. When Toli dies, or appears to die, this is something that Dmitri must try to do on his own.
     A series of adventures takes the violinist out of his comfort zone and ever deeper into unfamiliar natural and human terrain, an exquisite realm of frozen light. To get back to Moscow, Dmitri ends up selling his horse; to become for the first time a whole, free person, he ends up selling his violin for another horse. At the last, riding off alone, he is playing a Jew’s harp.
     Simple, clear, rapturous and unfathomable, Chamane comes from France as well as Russia. Its maker is Bartabas, founder and director of the Théâtre Équestre de Zingaro just outside Paris. Indeed, it is a film full of gorgeous horses, one imbued with the spirit of a circus. In it, the transport becomes the destination; hope, the shoes in which one is most comfortable. Life is a Gypsy caravan sparking grave delight in the spirit world; if we let go of the past, we can enter the quiet, illimitable beauty all around.

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