Angel on the Right Review
Despite the Eastern European setting, Angel on the Right’s initial set-up could come straight from a Western. After an absence of 10 years, Hamro (Maruf Pulodzoda) returns to the small village where he was born and brought up under the impression that his mother is dying. Deemed a “bandit” by the locals, he also finds himself faced with animosity and the threat of violence owing to the heavy debts he had left behind. The Western correlation continues in the casting of Pulodzoda, an actor who shares more than a passing resemblance to Jack Palance, himself a regular of the genre (most notably as the black clad villain in Shane). Plus there’s the twist a third of the way in that reveals the mother’s illness as a sham and that she has conspired with the townsfolk in order to make her son return.
However, just as the Western survived for so many years through numerous variations on its common traits, so Angel on the Right abandons this generic springboard via another early revelation. Coinciding with his realisation that he has been hoodwinked, Hamro also discovers a son of whom he was unaware. Tartan’s sleeve blurb uses their ensuing relationship as a prompt for comparisons with arthouse fare such Kolya and Central Station, yet director Djamshed Usmonov avoids their varying degrees of schmaltz in favour of a more bittersweet approach.
Indeed, Usmonov can be seen as the equivalent of the mother figure. Not in the sense of being manipulative, but rather as the quiet observer we witness in the pre-credits sequence: she eavesdrops on a heated debate regarding the burial of a suicide but neither comments nor gauges much in the way of a reaction. As such the viewer never feels they are being guided through the action. Rather the film takes its pace from that of the village, and the cinematography likewise reflects its muted nature. The only occasions in which we do feel Usmonov’s hand are in his decisions to downplay potentially “big” moments - a sex scene and a stabbing - that if played otherwise would potentially overbalance the picture. Because what is important about Angel on the Right is that it doesn’t require any such grandiosity. Instead its pleasures derive from the lead characters, specifically the mother and son, and father and son relationships that they form. Usmonov is working with non-professional performers which brings with it some problems, but also a wonderful delicacy. Indeed, what makes the film so enjoyable is its ability to render the cinematically familiar in such an agreeably plausible light.
Angel on the Right has been given the minimal treatment by Tartan for its DVD release with the sole extras being a scratchy trailer plus promos for some the company’s other releases. That said, they have still provided the film with a more than adequate presentation. The bleached out cinematography could be potentially dangerous and unleash a great deal of grain, and therefore artefacting, on the screen, yet the picture remains agreeably sharp. Of course, such a muted approach does mean that there is little detail in the blacks and darker colours, but this is a minor flaw to what is overall a pleasant surprise. As for the soundtrack, the original Tajik dialogue (with optional English subtitles) is available in its original Dolby Stereo state (not DD5.1 or DTS as advertised) and remains equally crisp. Indeed, there are no difficulties to speak of, just the requisite sharpness needed for the dialogue and Michael Galasso’s nicely understated score.