The Adopted Son (Beshkempir)

Institute History

  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival


It is early spring in Kyrgyzstan. Five women seated on a kilim in the village square pass a white cloth beneath their knees and pronounce the words, “It is not my son, but the son of the sky.” With this ritual, the newly weaned child of a large family is named beshkempir, then given to a childless couple.
Thus begins Aktan Abdikalikov’s poetically conceived tale of a boy’s passage through life, from the pranks and horsing around, the expeditions into the far-off fields, to the fistfights and the first notice of the opposite sex, the first secret glimpses of the nude female body, and the first shy and tentative love. Then comes the terrible moment when Azate learns of his adoption, followed by ostracism and loss.
Shot in artfully composed black and white with occasional short scenes in color, The Adopted Son is a film about the growth of one character set against the rhythms and rituals of village life—threshing wheat, baking mud bricks in the sun, calling on the first date with a borrowed bicycle. The film is executed with an exquisite sensibility for the sounds and sights of the natural world, and the result is a vivid illusion of presence. Hassan Kidiraliev’s strong but subtle cinematography also works, frame by frame, as fine photography, while Nurlan Nishanov’s sound track is equally remarkable, both for its realism and the contrast of its repeated motifs—bird calls, rustling wind,
rushing water—set against the dramatic progression of Azate’s life.

Aktan Abdikalikov, Director
Aktan Abdikalikov was born in 1957 in the village of Kountouou, Kyrgyzstan. After graduating from the Kyrgyzstan Art Institute, he worked as a set designer at the Kyrgyzfilm Studio. He directed a seventeen-minute documentary, A Dog Was Running, which won the Grand Prize at the Bakou Film Festival. He has produced several shorts and features, but The Adopted Son marks his feature film directorial debut.

— Nicole Guillement

Screening Details

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