Autumn 1997 (5.3)
War provides an immensely riveting and powerful subject for cinema. But making war movies is exorbitantly expensive. Filming battle scenes may require hundreds, even thousands of actors and extras. The additional salaries, uniforms, tanks and artillery all add substantially to costs of filming. Here's how resourceful filmmakers from Azerbaijan have dealt with this challenge.
The theme of war has always
captured the imagination of cinematographers. Azerbaijani filmmakers
are no exception. World War II or what Soviets usually refer
to as the "Great Patriotic War" (1941-1945) broke out
rather unexpectantly on June 22, 1941. Although Azerbaijan never
became a combat zone, the republic suffered tremendous losses.
Between 1940-1946, the population declined more than half a million
people from 3.27 million to 2.73 million. In other words, one
out of every six Azerbaijanis became a victim of the war.
Left: From "Her Great Heart" (Onun Boyuk Urayi), 1958. Directed by Azhdar Ibrahimov. This is a story about World War II. Gunduz Abbasov plays Rajab.
Right: From "I Loved You More Than Life" (Sizi Dunyalar Gadar Sevirdim), 1985. Rasim Ismayilov, Director. The story features general, Hazi Aslanov, played by Ramiz Novruzov.
And, of course, Hitler had his eye on Baku, obsessed with the idea of capturing the vast oil supply to sustain his own war effort. In fact, he had designated September 25, 1942, as the day German troops would attack Baku and seize the oil fields. Fortunately, the harsh, icy, inclement weather of the Caucasus mountains which the Germans had to cross to get to Baku forced them to abandon their plan.
Azerbaijan played an immense role in the victory of the war, providing much of the oil for the Soviet war effort. In 1941, the year of the highest oil production, Azerbaijan produced 25.4 million tons-a record for the entire history of its oil industry which today has still never been surpassed. Every able-bodied person was involved in the war-whether at the front or at home laboring in munitions factories, oil fields or with agriculture.
Depiction of the War
But, there was also the issue of jealousy which must not be underestimated. The theme of war was monopolized by Russian cinematography. Only the "older brother" (meaning Russians) could be shown as war heroes. They were the only ones allowed to be shown defeating the enemy. The "younger brothers" (meaning, the other republics) could only take minor parts despite the critical role that Azerbaijanis and other nationalities played in winning the war. Simply, the main heroes were written into cinematic history as Russian.
World War II Heroes
But these two films are about the extent to which movies with battle scenes were produced in Azerbaijan.
The Cherry Tree
The movie shows how war can destroy even the most tender and gentle feelings, as well as the most basic moral values of being human.
Our Jabish Muallim
Jabish is a teacher. His eyesight
is weak and prevents him from going to war. Nevertheless, he
tries his best to assist the war effort. One day, he discovers
how to make soap-a much needed commodity both at the front and
This film tries to reflect how you can't judge people from their appearances-nor can you always distinguish who is strong and who is weak. Azerbaijanis have an expression, "It's impossible to build a Chinese wall between the two." As a character, Jabish is obviously weak. He has to struggle to support his family. On the other hand, his lofty feelings and great patience enable him to remain resolute and carry out his goals.
The youth has lost his ration card,
but doesn't want the other boys living in the same courtyard
to feel any obligation to share their bread with him. He is too
proud; begging for something to eat would contradict his nature.
Besides, he realizes it would not be easy to gain the right to
share the bread. Vagif finds a way to work for people and earn
his own bread rather than beg.
Sound of the Pipe
When Sayali's husband dies at the front, her husband's friend Jabrayil proposes to her. The people of the village are furious. Jabrayil's brothers leave home, convinced that their family has been disgraced. One brother goes crazy; the other falls ill and dies. The only person who doesn't blame Jabrayil is the "agsaggal" (the wise old man) of the village-Isfandiyar Kishi. In this film, not a single sound of weaponry is heard, nor are any battle scenes depicted, yet we still witness the inherent tragedy of war.
Both scenes from "Shared Bread" (Sharikli Chorak), 1970. Directed by Shamil Mammudbeyov. Story is about a young boy and the difficulties he and other children have coping with WW II. Left: The asphalt maker, Mohammad (Fazil Salayev) is sure that they will win the war. Right: Dad Ismayil is played by Aghahusein Javadov and the young boy Vagif is played by Kamran Rajabli.
In contrast to this scene, another character, Ismayil, an Azerbaijani, is being held captive by an Armenian officer. The soldiers torture Ismayil, beating and kicking him. Despite the physical pain, he doesn't consider it as brutal as the time when he saw an Azerbaijani girl being raped and brutally murdered. In another scene, he is pained by overhearing Armenians in another room celebrating the capture of the Azerbaijani towns of Khojali and Shusha which were major towns inside the region of Nagorno-Karabakh where all Azerbaijanis were forced to flee or be killed by approaching Armenian troops.
Meanwhile, Ismayil tries to revenge his situation. He slips off the bed, crawls towards a box of matches and gathering all the loose papers he can find, manages to start a fire. Upon succeeding, he breathes a sigh of relief, pleased with his small victory. Suddenly, he hears a child crying upstairs. He realizes that it's an Armenian baby. Tears gather in his eyes when he realizes he has endangered the life of an innocent child.
This scene from "Faryad" brings to mind what Anar, a famous Azerbaijani writer once said: "If a soldier doesn't have a feeling of hatred, he won't be able to fight. But a soldier should confine his hatred to the soldiers of the enemy and not to the entire nation."
Alisaftar Mursaloghlu, a
screenwriter and journalist, lives in Baku.