In Kyrgyzstan, Chinghiz Aitmatov’s novella Jamilia is taught at an early enough age that everyone knows it. It’s beyond a text, then, and more a national mirror, waiting in one’s memory for lifelong projections and interpretations—perhaps even more than the figures known through Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Sunset Song, or Anne of Green Gables.
The novella, as one woman sketches in a deadpan handful of sentences, is exceptional, because it’s about a woman’s self-determination. Aminatou Echard’s experimental non-fiction adaptation of the work (let’s call it that for starters) shows how the work today reverberates, opens up the political imagination, is used as both a gateway to disillusionment and sustenance for women who know it—and does so without ever pushing the story across in a forceful way.
Instead, Echard simply respects each person’s time: voiceover, field recordings, and Super-8 images are her medium, and it’s safe to say they combine to make Jamilia a film that covers a lot of ground without ever uprooting from a position of focused patience.
None of the women Echard meets speaks of feminist theorists, but all of them work to break it down: how fictions and their own stories have been created, and what they’re doing to shape them for the next generation. You could call it a film about the development of wisdom.