The Seventh Bullet (a.k.a. Sedymaya Pulyaa) is one of the ‘Red Westerns’, also known as ‘Osterns’ (Easterns). Made in Uzbekistan in 1972 (so technically made in the USSR), it’s a film that takes the familiar Hollywood western genre and uses and tweaks it to tell a story about outlaws in a communist world, hence the ‘red’ bit. It’s being screened from a 35mm print at Rich Mix in London on March 29th as part of the 2015 Asia House Film Festival.
The Seventh Bullet is a robust and fascinating ‘western’ that’s set in 1920s after the Russian revolution and the following civil war, when Soviet control of central Asia was established. However, there are tensions in the region that lead to clashes between the-newly appointed Red Militia and the rebel Basmachis (anti-Soviet Islamist contras).
Our protagonist, Maksumov (played by Suymenkul Chokmorov; wild and great), is the leader of one of these pro-Soviet militias, who upon returning from an expedition finds the village that is under his charge pillaged by the Basmachis and his detachment of men either slaughtered or now following the leader of the rebels, Khairulla (played by Melis Abzalov; a total ham). Outnumbered and outgunned by the rebels, Maksumov decides to surrender himself to a group of bounty hunters in the hope of being taken to the rebels and gaining an audience with his men, as he plans to re-convince them of the sanctity of the communist revolution and the Soviet cause.
The director, Ali Khamraev’s control over the action in the bigger scenes is supple and intelligent. The film, consisting of only a handful of drawn-out, well-conceived set-pieces, builds gradually to a tense and satisfying climax, featuring some of the most mysterious and expressive landscapes in the whole film.
Slyly, Khamraev suggests some parallels between the pro-Soviet Maksumov, who over the course of the film becomes more and more derailed until the final scene portrays him almost as a manic, evil shaman intent on stealing his enemy’s life-force, and his enemy Khairulla—and indeed among all men of violence (each of the secondary characters is obsessed with exacting revenge at one point or another).
This is one of the best of a handful of Khamraev’s films that I’ve seen, deserving of its status as a classic. Londoners definitely shouldn’t miss the chance to see it in a 35mm print—you aren’t likely to experience it in as good a condition in a very long time.
ASIA HOUSE FILM FESTIVAL 2015 runs from 27 – 31 March 2015 – Official Site.
Check out the Gorilla preview of the festival here.