The Light Thief


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Aktan Arym Kubat
24 Sunday 24th July 2011
Don't know much about how much life can suck in Kyrgyzstan? Well then director, writer and actor Aktan Arym Kubat is out to change that. On top of giving us one of our most hard-to-pronounce opening paragraphs, this Kyrgyz director has also made and starred in his third film: The Light Thief. It's based around the life of a man in a rural village, slyly stealing electricity and tricking meters so his peers and friends can afford to power the bare bulbs hanging in their homes. We thought we'd check it out for you to see what all the post-Soviet fuss was about. Then when it comes out this Friday (July 29th, 2011) you can know just what sort of a tale of struggle, ingenuity and slightly dodgy corruption you're getting yourself into.
Our main man Mr Light, as he's known to the village residents, opens up the story well. With crackly background radio reports on the tumultuous political situation and scenes of a stark and somewhat brutal rural landscape, you get the sense all might not be going so well in Mr Light's material world. Still, Kubat plays his jovial and resilient character pretty well; you always get the feeling Mr Light's not got a bad bone in his body even when he's jacking power cables to illegally give his neighbours electricity. It's that Robin Hood element that underlies most of the storyline in the film when you realise Mr Light and his family aren't exactly living a life of luxury but do their bit for the community too.
Of course, tension has to arise: it can't be all sloping Kyrgyz hills and Mr Light's tinkling bicycle weaving from one house to the next to tamper with an electric metre or two. There's the introduction of the suspicious-looking suit, Bezkat, who drives in with all his modern ideas and the promise to turn the town around after the death of their mayor. The sharply-dressed property developer  starts hankering after Mr Light's ideas for windmill farms and better ways to use the masses of land that communally belong to the village.
Alas, in comes the odd combination of Western capitalist-individualism and sleazy Chinese investors (also besui). Once Bekzat finds a way to sneak his relative into power as the new and pretty unqualified mayor, all hell breaks loose in the form of belly-dancing strippers to please the investors, broken promises to Mr Light and a ridiculous scene where he's dragged into a river by two men on horseback. Yeah, I wasn't too sure about that bit either but overall the film does well to highlight some key points about the post-USSR Kyrgzy struggle for identity and prosperity.
One: Russia seems awesome in comparison, and that can't be a good thing. Two: politicians are likely to screw you over if they wear new-looking suits. And three: even if your heart's in the right place, you shouldn't go telling powerful people all your ideas because they'll want to re-appropriate them as their own, then leave you in the dusk. Potentially four: in a village where everyone cycles or walks, don't trust the guys who drive massive 4x4s. 
With a fairly ambiguous ending, The Light Thief opens up an interesting dialogue on nation-building and the blurred lines of legality in times of desperation. It's well-shot and worth watching if you want something slightly more challenging than the new Harry Potter.
The Light Thief is coming to a cinema near you from this Friday, July 29th. 

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