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In Between Dying (Sepelenmis Ölümler Arasinda)

Slow and meditative drama from Azerbaijan reflects on life, death, chance encounters and fleeting connections - live from Venice


Davud ( Orkhan Iskandarli) lives with his mother in Baku. She alleges that she is sick, and that she will die if she doesn’t take her pills. He is unmoved and departs without giving the old lady the medication. The visibly ill and disappointed mother begs God to forgive her son: “He’s not a bad person, he’s just young and doesn’t know what he’s doing”.

Davud jumps on his motorbike and hits the road. He heads to the verdant, foggy and mountainous fields near the Azerbaijani capital. He is pursued by three man attempting to stop him. They believe that Davud will inadvertently bring death to those along his way, despite having a good heart. The landscapes are bucolic, misty and mystical, the perfect backdrop for the mysterious and enigmatic story that follows.

The young man meets four women along his way, and he changes their lives forever. The first one has been chained up for years. She bites her father in her search for freedom. The second woman is oppressed and beaten by her husband. After talking to Davud, she gathers the courage to kill him. The third woman is fleeing an arranged marriage. Her chance meeting with the young man will trigger her to carry out an extreme act. The fourth woman wishes to be buried alive. All four encounters have a connection with death. Is Davud some sort of unwilling Grim Reaper? The answer will come at the end, as he returns to his ailing mother in Baku

The conversations are very long and protracted, dotted with subtle philosophic and poetic devices. The photography is equally meditative. The camera is quiet and still, except for the sequences in which it follows Davud’s motorbike. The takes are long and observational. So much that it is possible to see the fog shift, revealing a tree in the background. The white from the mist blends with the green from the mountains in order to create an exquisite picture of nature.

Baydarov’s slow-paced, conversational lyricism and quiet visuals are akin to Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and The Wild Pear Tree (2018). The difference is that the Azerbaijani filmmaker is far more cryptic. Plus his film is a lot shorter, at just 92 minutes (compared to Ceylan’s runtime of three hours). It was produced by the enfant terrible of Mexican cinema, Carlos Reygadas.

In Between Dying is showing in Competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival, which is taking place right now. It is unlikely to make it beyond the festival circuit, but still worth a view if you have the opportunity.

By Victor Fraga - 11-09-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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