2023.10.24 [Event Reports]
The Enigma of Creation


©2023 TIFF

Despite the selection of two of his films at Japanese film festivals in the past, the Azerbaijani filmmaker Hilal Baydarov had not yet been able to visit Japan himself since both films were screened during the COVID epidemic. He had even won the Best Artistic Contribution Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2021 for Crane Lantern, and been unable to come.
He was thus especially excited to be on hand for the world premiere of his latest work, Sermon to the Birds, in the Competition section of the 36th TIFF. During the Q&A following the screening on October 24, Baydarov took the opportunity to express his love for Japan in no uncertain terms. “You cannot imagine my love for Japanese painting and film,” he said. “I am addicted to Japanese culture, even more than most people in the world.”
It may be difficult to locate any Japanese influence in Sermon, or, for that matter, any influence at all. There’s a bit of Terrence Malick in Baydarov’s obsession with the purity of nature, and some Andrei Tarkovsky in the striking production design; but according to the director himself, the film, like all his work, is “difficult” on purpose. “Thank you for your patience,” he said to an audience member who confessed that the often “poetic” dialogue was hard to understand. “The poetry is even difficult in Azerbaijan, and grammatically wrong,” he admitted. “You see, I believe cinema has its own language, which isn’t standard communication. It is not really a poem or a text, but just my internal voice, which is presented as an external voice.”
Though Baydarov explained that he approached the movie as if it were a “dream,” there is a plot of sorts. A young couple, Sura (Rana Asgarova) and Davud (Orkhan Iskandarli), are going through a forest to the top of a mountain to wed, after which Davud will go fight in a war. They are waiting for the arrival of a hunter (Huseyn Nasirov), who they believe will save them, though from what exactly is never clear. Much of the narration and dialogue is about death, and many scenes are presented as static long shots that show how nature is defined by death.
When asked by TIFF Programming Director Ichiyama Shozo what motivated him to make the film, which is apparently the second part of a trilogy about war, Baydarov replied, “I was exhausted after I made my last film, so I went to the forest and sat under an oak tree. I just wanted to make a simple film about a man going up a mountain. I wanted to meditate on that image and transport the audience to another world.”
Baydarov says that once he latches on to a notion, “I can’t stop,” and there’s a relentless quality to the imagery that’s hypnotic at times. “Everything is a character in the movie—the birds, the windows, even the cameras and lenses. If possible, I would list the trees in the credits.”
One person mentioned a repeating scene of the young couple standing in front of a moss-covered wall, and Baydarov said it was in a house he discovered at the top of a mountain that used to belong to a painter whose name he still doesn’t know. “Every day we had to carry all the equipment up the mountain to this house, three hours each way. That was a very important part of the process of making the film.”
But for all the attention paid to nature, it turns out that Baydarov’s sound design is almost entirely artificial. “We didn’t record any sounds,” he said. “We created sound from zero. Even the bird sounds were created after listening to thousands of birds. I am addicted to sound and music. I want to make my own music that does not use melody, but just pure sound. It’s the main part of the movie. I recreate nothing. It’s all creation.”
Q&A Session: Competition
Sermon to the Birds
Guests: Hilal Baydarov (Director/Screenplay/Editor/Cinematographer/Producer)

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