UZBEKISTAN: Elparvar (2019)

At first blush, Elparvar (roughly “born from the ashes”) is a big historical action-drama. It’s set during the late Khwarazmian Empire, with the imminent invasion of the Mongols. It follows a young man from a family torn between settled urban life and the life of a warrior on horseback. His village is destroyed and his family killed or taken captive by a Mongol attack on the night of his wedding, leading him to seek revenge. It’s high production value, with some beautiful shots, and alternates being gory and gritty with cheesy moments. It’s really fun and at first glance doesn’t seem that deep – the plot may snake around a bit, but you know how it’s going to go.

But now that I’ve had a chance to learn about the reforms going on in Uzbekistan and ideas of Uzbek identity, there’s more to it. The movie works in a lot of the values that Uzbekistan is looking to see in itself today (I’d argue in the same way an MCU movie does with American values). It reflects a country often caught between greater powers, but with an independent underdog identity. There’s a lot of language about fighting for freedom and liberty. There’s also lot of talk of what is masculinity (especially between fighting, learning, and leading), and while they do rely on the damsel in distress trope, she is a defiant one.

With the recent return of religion to everyday life in Uzbekistan, and the government’s support of moderate Islam as a way to break with the anti-religious past and undermine present problems of extremism, it was interesting to see the subtle placements of the Quran on a stand as a visual shorthand that a character was learned and wise.

The whole movie is available on Youtube, with English subtitles.

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