Zlín 2023 Review: ADEMOKA'S EDUCATION, Kazakh Maverick on Wes Anderson Collision Course

The twelfth and most accessible feature from Adilkhan Yerzhanov, a singular voice in contemporary Kazakh cinema, is an unexpectedly heart-warming coming-of-age tale with two misfits at its core.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Zlín 2023 Review: ADEMOKA'S EDUCATION, Kazakh Maverick on Wes Anderson Collision Course

In the past decade, Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov has emerged as a singular voice in contemporary Kazakh cinema, carving out a distinct niche with his sardonic yet humanistic depiction of life in post-Soviet Kazakhstan.

His films delve into themes of alienation, despair, and corruption, shedding an unflinching light on darker facets of the human experience while underscoring the resilience and quiet dignity of ordinary individuals.

Yerzhanov made a splash with his debut, Realtors, introducing a unique style fusing realism, allegory, and absurdism. He utilized Kazakhstan's desolate landscapes as potent metaphors, generating a series of dark comedies laced with Kafkaesque undertones, and he did not hesitate to explore bleaker themes, such as in the crime drama, A Dark, Dark Man.

Recently, the Kazakh auteur has ramped up his pace, releasing two features a year set in his signature cinematic universe of Karatas. His latest works, Ademoka's Education and Goliath, are part of this prolific output. Goliath, a small-town drama, deals with a common man's quiet rebellion against a local mafia chief, exploring oppression and power dynamics with Yerzhanov’s typical misfit as the protagonist.

In contrast, Ademoka's Education offers a lighter, more uplifting narrative in Yerzhanov's filmography. The film centers on a 15-year-old undocumented migrant from Tajikistan, Ademoka (Adema Yerzhanova), who is coerced into begging by her family and an unlikely local mafia boss. Despite her circumstances, Ademoka shows a talent for creating comics, and an opportunity for her to study emerges as a beacon of hope.


Her lack of legal status and citizenship, however, become significant obstacles unless she can complete her finishing and university entrance exams within a month. Unable to afford tuition, she finds an unexpected ally in Ahab (Daniyar Alshinov), a dismissed literature and philosophy teacher turned alcoholic, who begins to tutor Ademoka in the most unconventional ways.

As is customary in Yerzhanov's cinematic universe, a bizarre and twisted turn of fate leads to the formation of an unusual mentor-student relationship. Ahab, having taken all of Ademoka's money without providing the promised tuition, becomes a key player in helping her prepare for and apply to her exam. Ademoka's Education echoes elements of Realtors, presenting itself as a deadpan social commentary set within the context of poverty.

Yerzhanov, renowned for his narratives from society's fringes, continues to weave a humanistic tale amidst despair and misery. A semblance of a father-daughter bond, though, takes shape between Ahab and Ademoka, two misfits isolated on the periphery of society allying together. Yerzhanov inserts an extremely dark backstory for Ahab, a former teacher chewed and spitted out by the system, partly justifying his accidental role as a mentor to budding talents.

Ademoka's Education adheres to Yerzhanov's established visual aesthetics, maintaining his signature austere compositions, this time set entirely against outdoor backdrops in widescreen shots. Remarkably, the film doesn't feature a single interior scene, opening the door to a plethora of interpretations. Yerzhanov and his team, particularly those responsible for art direction and location scouting, ensure meticulous visual components, albeit stylized with a subtler touch.


Yerzhanov's most visually indulgent film to date has been The Plague at Karatas Village, with Ademoka's Education now joining its ranks. This similarity is primarily due to the vivid color contrasts deployed through costumes and settings. Each of Yerzhanov's films bears a distinctive lo-fi signature style, maintaining a consistent aesthetic across his expansive oeuvre while imprinting each film with a different visual personality.

In Ademoka's Education, Yerzhanov opts for a stylistic nod to Wes Anderson. Alongside verbal references to Moby Dick, visual puns subtly allude to Moonrise Kingdom. This adoption of Andersonian style could stem from the shared theme of narratives centered on children and adults. Thus, Yerzhanov extends his catalogue with an unexpected but characteristic deadpan coming-of-age tale.

At first glance, Ademoka's Education presents a straightforward, uncomplicated narrative and form. Yet, beneath its succinct facade, the film harbors Yerzhanov's typical blend of absurdism, bleak humor, and despair, served in a more vibrant package and layered with deeper semantics. Beyond the customary Kafkaesque representation of official institutions and endemic corruption, the film subtly addresses racism and xenophobia.

This latest addition to Yerzhanov's oeuvre demonstrates his awareness of his work within a broader context. Yerzhanov's twelfth feature may indeed offer the most accessible gateway into his cinematic universe.

Ademoka's Education

  • Adilkhan Yerzhanov
  • Adilkhan Yerzhanov
  • Adema Yerzhanova
  • Daniyar Alshinov
  • Bolat Kalymbetov
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Adilkhan YerzhanovZlin Film Fest 2023Adema YerzhanovaDaniyar AlshinovBolat KalymbetovComedyDrama

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