Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It sounds like the name of a failed American sitcom from the ‘50s, and true to that shape, this comedy/horror hybrid from Kazakhstan exhibits the same troubling gender politics that plagued many a production from that bygone era — but with a twist. Dastan (Daniyar Alshinov) is a put-upon husband with a pregnant shrew of a wife who escapes with his two best buds for a guys-only fishing trip that spirals wildly out of control when they witness the shooting of an unarmed man by four local wacky mobsters. As if things weren’t bad enough, they are also being stalked by a one-eyed maniac who is attempting to pick off members of both parties. Think Deliverance meets The Evil Dead, although writer-director Yernar Nurgaliyev pitches the proceedings at a tenor that rockets right past any “live action cartoon” descriptor. There’s also a freneticism on display in the early going that is so off-putting that it borders on tortuous to endure: characters scream every line of dialogue, mistaking volume for comedy; a mob boss speaks only in proverbs; and an overweight man dances and sashays his way into the film in a manner that seems fairly homophobic (he also faints at the sight of blood). But wait, there’s more: when our three protagonists go fishing, their hooks rip off not only one of the members’ pants, but also another man’s ear lobe; ironic needle drops saturate the soundtrack to a degree that could suggest, or at least be misconstrued as, satire, and the violence is ridiculously vulgar, with jaws ripped in half, bodies losing their heads, and blood and piss spraying the camera (within the first 15 minutes, no less). And most importantly, farting plays a critical role.
It’s an exercise in outre juvenalia, to be sure, and the whole thing would be easier to dismiss if Nurgaliyev didn’t display legitimate filmmaking chops, a fact which may sound like putting lipstick on pig, but the formalism demonstrated within each respective shot impresses even as the action continually grates. Nurgaliyev is downright old school in his approach, favoring Steadicam and dolly shots that are a true rarity in a subgenre that emphasizes visual busyness above all else. The widescreen compositions actually utilize the extra space in meaningful ways, capturing both the characters and their environments with the use of deep focus lenses, with foreground and background allowed to effectively play off one another, sometimes even brilliantly, such as an extended bit of physical comedy where one character evades the watchful eye of his captor. The symmetry of Nurgaliyev’s images alone would make Wes Anderson stand up and applaud. It must also be said that the proceedings actually do improve the longer they go on, as the story loses more and more periphery characters and narrows focus to its central trio, who begin to resemble something one could almost describe as endearing. All of this ridiculousness seems to exist solely for the titular punchline at film’s end, a joke as old as a Catskills routine, but it’s still enough to make one question if there may have been actual intent behind the broad caricature. It’s too bad that this late-game realization doesn’t make this any less obnoxious. If Nurgaliyev can move beyond the sophomoric shenanigans of Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It and deliver a project that marries his visual acuity with a story that isn’t analogous to nails on a chalkboard, it will be a day worth waiting for.
Published as part of NYAFF 2021 — Dispatch 2.