From the Italian production stable responsible for such impressive works as "No Man's Land" and "Blackboards" comes this accomplished Tajikistani fable from writer-director Djamshed Usmonov.
Hamro (Maruf Pulodzoda) is a tough-guy returning from a decade in Moscow to visit his dying mother, Halima (Uktamoi Miyasarova), in their native village. Her wish is that a double-door be fitted to her property so that her coffin can be carried away ceremoniously, so Hamro commissions the necessary renovations.
It transpires, though, that Halima's 'illness' is a ruse to lure her son back home, thereby allowing the crooked Mayor (Mardonqul Qulbobo) to recover the debts of the long-absent rogue. Further complications arise as Hamro is also being hounded for cash by a gangster called Tarzan. Nor can he shake off the attentions of his ten-year-old illegitimate son.
The title derives from an Islamic legend, which talks of an invisible angel standing on each of our shoulders. That on the right witness our good deeds and thoughts, that on the left our bad ones. Upon death the Scales of Justice are weighed with the angels' host being sent to Heaven or Hell. Yet Usmonov refuses to paint his characters in black and white terms, according a sense of mystery to the motivations and actions of mother and son, right down to the final shot.
Filming in his own village, and using his close relatives in key acting roles, the director constructs a revealing portrait of an impoverished community, still recovering from the effects of civil war. Many of the pleasures here are in the details and rituals of everyday life: the vigorous handshakes when doing business, the techniques of the local estate agent, the way somebody books the time of their passage into the next life.
If anything the filmmaker heads off on too many digressions, such as a bizarre sub-plot involving Hamro working as a cinema projectionist, but this is a minor cavil in a sturdily acted film from a region so rarely represented in cinema.
In Tajik with English subtitles.
"Angel on the Right" is released in UK cinemas on Friday 29th August 2003.