Director: Nosir Saidov
True Noon was the first feature film to be made and released in Tajikistan since the country’s independence, eighteen years earlier. It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that the plot involves the tumultuous process of independence itself, and the consequences such a transition can have for the ordinary people of a country.
The film is set in a fictional village called Safedobi, in western Tajikistan. The opening scenes depict a typical day in the life of its residents – men chopping firewood and repairing old motorcycles, women hanging laundry and sharing gossip, and children running carefree along the unpaved streets. Our protagonist is Kiril, the town’s elderly meteorologist, who lives and works alone at a climate observatory atop a nearby hill. His family has moved to Russia, but Kiril is devoted to his job and has remained in Safedobi in order to train his replacement – the young local woman Nilufar. Kiril has an almost fatherly affection for Nilufar, and the two bond as he passes on the knowledge he holds so precious. The film’s title is a reference to one of the solemn duties Kiril entrusts to Nilufar – the determination of true noon, the moment the sun reaches its highest point each day.
Nilufar is engaged to Aziz, who has recently returned from college. Their wedding day is fast approaching, and the entire village buzzes with excitement. However, a few days before the ceremony, a group of soldiers arrive and erect a formidable, barbed-wire fence through the middle of the village. Landmines are buried on either side of the fence, and armed patrols are set up along it. The Soviet Union has collapsed, the soldiers explain, and an international border now runs straight through Safedobi. The fence may only be passed at an official border crossing, the nearest of which is fifty miles away. Naturally, this creates enormous challenges for the community, which has been cruelly and literally carved in two. The village’s only school and only medical clinic are now in Lower Safedobi, inaccessible to half the residents. This is a particular problem for Nilufar’s mother, who is heavily pregnant, but lives in Upper Safedobi. Nilufar herself is also separated from her fiancé by the border, and the wedding is suddenly cast into doubt.
As the town is forced to come to terms with the absurdity of its new predicament, True Noon really begins to shine. The film is written with a satirical edge which is whip-smart and piercing, deftly critiquing the heavy-handed actions of an overly bureaucratic government which is oblivious to the everyday lives of its citizens. It takes its time in the first half to introduce the various townspeople and establish how interconnected their lives are, so that when the soldiers finally arrive, it is much clearer just how disruptive this border will be. Over the course of the film, Safedobi truly does begin to feel like a real place, and the characters who live there are utterly believable throughout.
True Noon is a story of resistance and resilience – told through a small community thrust into disarray by wider political issues which they have nothing to do with. The film’s first and final shots are both of the empty sky at noon, a reminder that such a sky is universal and cannot be contained by fences or borders. True Noon is filmed with unpretentious wit and beauty, filled with characters who are complex and compelling. I hope to see many more such films made in Tajikistan in the future.