In Sharipa Urazbayeva's stunning directorial debut, Meruert Sabbusinova plays the titular character in a fictionalization of her own life, in which she fights for survival in a remote village on the Kazakh Steppe after her husband disappears and is presumed dead.
Contemporary World Cinema
In Zhanash, a far-away village nestled on the Kazakh Steppe, 400 kilometres away from Almaty — and another three kilometres by foot on a dirt path off the main road — Mariam (Meruert Sabbusinova) lives with her husband and four young children in a home without light and water. One winter day, her husband disappears without a trace. Because there is no body, he cannot be officially declared dead. As a result, Mariam cannot receive state financial support. A very reserved person who buries her emotions deep inside, Mariam, alone, must take survival into her own hands. The experience changes her. Then, just as everything has begun to fall into place, her husband suddenly returns as if nothing has happened and expects life to continue as before.
Mariam, Sharipa Urazbayeva's stunning debut, is inspired by actual events in the life of Sabbusinova, a woman Urazbayeva visited as part of a news segment while working for a local TV channel. Determined to tell Sabbusinova's story after meeting her, Urazbayeva wrote the script and started pre-production within the week. When casting an actor for the lead role, Urazbayeva couldn't envision anyone for Mariam but Sabbusinova herself, who, having lived that life, was the only one who could understood the character's nature and context. Not long after, in the dead of winter, a small crew, including talented cinematographer Samat Sharipov, moved into Sabbusinova's home. The outcome is a real-life experience depicted hermeneutically, allegorically — a visually rich film that obscures the line between documentary and fiction. Jarring, brilliant, and singular, Mariam offers a window into a world most cannot imagine.