Remember this name: Adilkhan Yerzhanov. This Kazakh filmmaker’s brutish and uncompromising new feature film Goliath screens at the Orizzonti extra section at Venice Film Festival. Yerzhanov’s previous film Yellow Cat also screened in Venice, although nothing is quite similar between the two features. Yellow Cat was an idiosyncratic tribute in the vein of Terence Malik’s Badlands, whereas Goliath presents a stark, uncompromising portrait of a community neck deep in crime and violence. It begins with a setup amidst the dry, arid regions of a Kazakh village where a brutish man repeatedly beats and kicks his gang members. Then they pick up the ammunition for the kill. That is how the day begins.

Rules don’t apply here, in the Kazakh village of Karatas, and Yerzhanov wastes no time in establishing the setting and tone of Goliath. We are introduced to the criminal boss Poshaev (Daniyar Alshinov), who will leave no stone unturned to ensure his men are doing the work given to them. Which includes smuggling and gatekeeping. A grisly murder takes place early in the film, of a woman named Karina who has reported the crimes to the local police. Her husband Arzu (Berik Aitzhanov) arrives at the scene, limping when Poshaev himself goes to Karina’s burial and admits that he was the one who killed her. He had no choice. Poshaev then takes Arzu under his wing and tells him to be a caretaker.

Goliath takes on from here as Arzu becomes the wingman of the boss, and quietly observes the way the shots are called in this world. His life is overturned immediately, and he accepts the change quietly, moving into a makeshift shed in another village with his little daughter. There he meets a lonely woman who cooks for him when he returns back and takes care of the child. But the main focus of Goliath stays in the machinery of crime in this land, where everyone is aware of the casualties around them and chooses to move on with their respective lives. For Arzu, who slowly learns the skills and forges a way to connect with the boss, we never know. Yerzhanov establishes his loneliness in contrast to the chaos around him, where Arzu has no choice but to rebuild himself as much as he can. His loyalties remain clouded, as we get no direct hint of his intentions. Aitzhanov cuts a curious mix of intent and dissonance. It is through his figure that we follow the ghastly events of Goliath.

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Goliath (2022) Movie Review (2)

Yerzhanov places his viewers in this world of terror and void with deliberate pacing of events. Tense and calculated in its long scenes, Goliath occasionally loses some heft in the second half. It could have done away with the long static sequences where the camera slowly builds up closer to the subject, in some of the later parts when the narrative dials up the suspense to quite a high. Goliath tethers towards an abiding sense of realism, much like a documentary, that gives the film its gritty, nail-biting edge.

The village presents itself as a microcosm of the world dominated by force and power structures. Where the local police and investigation forces are two caught up with their own egos to even trace down the crime and the people involved in it. In more ways than one, I was reminded of the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Is revenge the answer to violence? Where does revenge lead, at a time when lawlessness is the abiding force? How does one let go and restart?

Goliath is charged with winning cinematography by Aydar Sharipov, which captures the weathered faces of the people with quiet intensity. The long sequences are finely choreographed, aided by editor Azamat Utianov, and a solid production design by Yermek Utegenov.

Still, Goliath somewhat loses its momentum in the later half, when a crucial plot point is revealed through a long sequence that stretches to and fro, reaching its predictable climax. Goliath restricts itself to these stretches and would have benefitted more if it had dialed up these scenes leading to the finish. Nevertheless, it manages to stay consistently watchable, aided by fine turns from the ensemble of actors, and Yerzhanov’s patient, striking look at a community at odds with itself.


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Goliath (2022) Movie Links – IMDb
Goliath (2022) Movie Cast – Berik Aytzhanov, Daniyar Alshinov, Dmitrij Chebotarev, Alexandra Revenko, Rabiya Abish, Yerken Gubashev

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