Happiness (Baqyt) is an ironically fitting title for director Askar Uzabayev’s film. The drama is a brutally realistic tale about domestic violence against women in Kazakhstan households. In his fifth feature, the filmmaker has gone to lengths to portray the reality of women’s safety in his country and has dug deep into the issue’s complexity.
Written by Assem Zapisheva, the film follows our protagonist (Laura Myrzakhmetova), who is a saleswoman. Readied up in her marketing attire, her bruises all concealed, she sells cosmetics as “happiness” to women. They probably are customers who have been missing a part of themselves in the oppressive and biased society they live in. Though her enthusiasm and smile are way over the charts at her job, her reality is the exact opposite. She’s faced years of abuse in her sham of a marriage. The first glimpse of her husband (Yerbolat Alkozha) conveys how disinterested he is in his family’s well-being. A falsely proud man drowning in alcohol, he uses his wife as a punching bag to justify his failures.
Uzabayev’s intentions are right out there on full display. But he has taken a very unusual approach to telling the story of a social issue that will inevitably send shivers down your spine. Happiness first deals with the woman’s attempts to escape her abusive relationship and find some freedom from her misery. Until a certain moment, there is hope for the protagonist that she shall set herself free.
“She’s faced years of abuse in her sham of a marriage.”
However, the film breaks that deceptive pretense by shifting to a horrifying note. There are no holds barred in this depiction of the violent reality of domestic abuse women face. At this point, the drama becomes challenging to sit through. Not because it drifts off course but because it becomes frighteningly brutal. Uzabayev goes to great lengths to show the extremes of social crime, making the film far more engaging and significant.
There are several layers of orthodox patriarchal settings in Kazakhstan (and the rest of the world). Happiness unwraps how each archaic social structure impacts women’s everyday lives. With every hit the husband lays on his wife, the narrative becomes more and more destructive. The escalating intensity of violence every minute reflects how abuse has become a deep-rooted societal principle that neither law nor the public offers any attention to.
Myrzakhmetova’s performance only further amplifies this notion. Myrzakhmetova is exceptional and is the primary key that opens the audience to the anguish and agony that comes with the film’s subject. It’s as of all victims of domestic abuse and violence come alive on-screen through Myrzakhmetova, whose unforgettable performance will shake you to the core. Her expressive face beautifully conveys each and every emotion.