Director: Elchin Musaoglu
I now come to the final “A” country on my list – the tiny, mountainous republic of Azerbaijan. The nation was apparently a popular location for the filming of Russian films back when it was a Soviet republic, but there doesn’t seem to have been many locally produced features in the years since its independence.
The one I managed to find was The 40th Door. The director, Elcin Musaoglu, had worked mostly in television before this film, and the actors are all unknowns, even within Azerbaijan. The title refers to an Azerbaijani fairy tale – told through a series of text screens at the beginning of the film – about a princess who is rescued from a house with 40 doors. The village in which the film takes place is named ‘The 40th Door’ in reference to this.
Like a previous entry on this blog, The Forgiveness of Blood (Albania), the film is about a poor family trying to survive after the sudden removal of the father figure. In this case, though, the father is not just in hiding, but dead by the hands of the Russian mafia whilst on a trip to Moscow. Teenage Rüstam and his mother Leyla live in the aforementioned 40th Door and hear the news via their neighbour’s telephone, which is the only one in the village.
Their only hope for financial aid is an uncle who works on a submarine, but whose address or whereabouts they do not know. Left without any means of supporting the family, Leyla is forced to sell off their possessions one by one. Despite the strong opposition of Rüstam, this includes a rug of his father’s with extreme sentimental value.
From here the plot involves Rüstam and Leyla struggling to find ways to make money and stay together. For Rüstam, this includes dabbling in petty crime. Like Nik in The Forgiveness of Blood, Rüstam faces the frustration of his personal desires – in Rüstam’s case, becoming a musician – and how they clash with the harsh realities of holding a family together in difficult times.
Unlike The Forgiveness of Blood, however, The 40th Door focuses on two central characters – a single parent and child rather than a whole host of siblings and uncles. This gives the film a sense of clarity and focus – a single relationship to explore in greater depth. It also has more moments of humour than the Albanian film, which occasionally seemed excessively bleak. It’s slow at times, and clearly aimed at a local audience instead of foreigners, but it convincingly and competently tells a story of strong, simple strokes.