Affable but basically talentless, Karabas (Asset Imangaliev) has found himself cursed with responsibility. As patriarch of a family of four — two wives plus one young son — Karabas must beg and grift his way from one day to the next. Inevitably, the pressures created by Karabas’s gambling and philandering create animosity among those who depend on him.
Shot on location around the titular landmark, “Suleiman Mountain” presents Kyrgyzstan in delicate cool hues. Many scenes, shot in furtive long takes, could be mistaken for documentary. The characters themselves keep their distance. At no point does the film bring us inside of Karabas’s personal world or that of his son Uluk (Daniel Dayrbekov), who is pained by his father’s antics. For most viewers, the windswept landscapes of “Suleiman Mountain” should prove more memorable than the characters who walk through them.
The film’s most distinctive character moments belong to Karabas’s first wife, Zhipara (Perizat Ermanbetova). Loyal, patient and dignified, she is both valet and consigliere to her husband. She also practices a kind of shamanic folk ritual, in which she glances into the future while ferociously lashing herself. A rivalry and partnership emerge between Zhipara and Karabas’s young second wife (Turgunai Erkinbekova) — yet another complexity that Karabas in unprepared to confront. Polygamy allows for love triangles without infidelity.
The dramatic shortcomings of “Suleiman Mountain” are compensated by its sensitive but unromantic portrait of daily life along the remote byways of Kyrgyzstan.