Song from the Southern Seas (2009)




Director:     Marat Sarulu. 

Starring:    Irina Angejkina (Ehefrau des Russen), Dzaidarbek Kunguzhinov (Kasache), Vladimir Yavorsky (Russe).

a Russian and a Kazakh couple live in harmony until the white Russian couple have a dark-skinned baby and the fight begins; draws on history of Kazakhstan



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

A white man runs over to the neighbor's house.   He yells for Asan to come out.  When Asan comes out, Ivan tells him that his wife Marja is giving birth!  Asan tells Ivan to go get the midwife, because it's too far to the hospital.  So Ivan gets the motorcycle, his wife gets in the side car and Asan's wife rides behind Ivan.  Meanwhile, Asan rides his horse over the river to get to the midwife first to let her know the others are on their way.   

The motorcycle arrives and the trio go into the big tent-like structure.  While the wife struggles with the labor, the guys are drinking liquor by the lake.  Marja yells for Ivan to get in here.  He comes over to the tent and says he's here.  Masha tells him:  "I hope your balls fall off, you miserable fool!"

The baby is born.  Marja asks her husband:  "What are you staring at then, you monster?  Well, say something."  Ivan asks:  "What kind of monster have you borne me, fool?"  He adds:  "That's no son of mine.  He's dark."

Asan's little girl asks her father why does he have to beat mother?  He answers:  "Women have more devils in them than men do."  Daughter doesn't believe him.  He also says that women must be taught their place.

Was that about Sashka again?  Asan's wife tells Marja that she should just confess her crime to Ivan.  He might pardon her.  Marja says she has nothing to confess.  She adds:  "How should I know why my son is so dark? "  Her neighbor asks:  "You really didn't do anything with Asan?"  The women start pulling each other's hair and then start hitting each other.  Ivan comes running out of the house and breaks up the women.  But they want to continue fighting.  So he throws a bucket of water onto each of the women. 

Fifteen years later.  The teacher says to Ivan::  "Your son ran away from boarding school four days ago.  A real bashibazouk.  In 30 years at this school I've never seen the like of it.  He's uncontrollable."  Ivan asks where the boy is and she says he is down at the horse stables as usual. 

Ivan goes out there with his motorcycle.  He tries to talk to the boy about it but he is determined to control the conversation.  He says he's not going to school because he doesn't want to go.   He sasses his dad and Ivan comes into the coral to grab his son off his horse.   Sashka just has the horse jump over a low spot in the fence and he is gone. 

A young man named Wilhelm drives the jeep for his boss, Nikolai Gavrilovich.  Wilhelm reminds the boss that his day stops at 6 p.m.  The boss tells him he doesn't care.  There is still work to be done.  So Wilhelm stops the jeep, gets out of the car and starts walking away.  Nikolai shouts that the guy is fired.  Wilhelm pays no attention to the boss. 

The boss walks into his office, throws his hat on the floor and shouts:  "Vitka Preichel is fired!"  The secretary says he has fired Preichel so often!  She shouts to him:  "Learn how to drive, why don't you?"

Three men on horses tell Ivan to come out of his house.  They want to talk to him.  Ivan comes out and the men throw down someone wrapped in a tarp.  It turns out to be Sashka.  The men say the boy was rustling their horses.  They give Ivan two options.  One, they can take the boy to the police.  Two, they can take off one of the boy's fingers.  Or Ivan can pay a ransom.  Ivan says the only thing of value he has is his pigs  The Muslim men do not want his pigs. So the horse men give him the fourth option.  They give Ivan a beatdown with their horse whips.  Asan carries Ivan into his home. 

The boss' driver says he is running away to Germany.  This makes the boss furious because he had wanted to make Vitja  his chief engineer.  The argument heats up and soon Vitja abandons the boss and his jeep on the road.

Marja's family arrives at the farm.  It's a large group that has arrived.  Marja's people refer to themselves as Cossacks. No one in the family pays any attention to Ivan.  After dinner the family sings and dances. 

One of the brothers asks Ivan why is he not speaking?  Doesn't he like the family?  The brother says that Ivan is empty.  Why does he make his wife suffer by having to live in this backwater area?  His wife says that she would like to go home, but Ivan likes it here.  The brother blames his sister.  "Dad told you, a farmer's no use to a Cossack." 

Brother now asks where is her dark-haired son?  Marja says that he has run away from home.   He's up in the mountains with the horse-herders.  She adds that the Kazakhs caught him rustling.  Ivan couldn't pay the ransom so they beat Ivan up.  Sister tells brother that she is also worried about Sanka.  He doesn't come home anymore.  Brother says her boy isn't their kin.  He tells Ivan that maybe the neighbor had a go with his wife.  Ivan gets angry and tells the whole family to get out.  The evil brother then beats up Ivan.

The family leaves.  Marja tries to console her husband, but he rejects this.  He sees Asan and hits him in the face.  Asan is going to hit him back, but he stops himself and goes into his house. 

For two days Ivan has stayed in the barn with the pigs.  His wife tries to get him to come out, but he refuses.  He has a bottle of liquor with him.

Ivan gets on his motorcycle and goes for a ride. 

Gavrilovich comes over to the farm to see Ivan.  He's mad at Marja  because first her son ran away and now her husband has run away.

Asan has gone to the steppes and now his wife Anja has to do his work.

Ivan travels up to snow-capped mountains. 

Marja and Anja get together to have some drinks.  They start singing.  They forgive each other for their trespasses. 

Ivan goes for a swim, but when he comes back he finds his clothes stolen. 

The women put on records and dance around the house.

The Kazakhs  try to capture Sashka again.  But this time he gets away. 

Ivan goes to his grandfather's house and gets some clothes to wear.  Grandfather tells Ivan about his ancestors. 

Asan goes into what looks a bit like badlands.  He builds a cairn with stacked stone.  He looks up to the sky and says:  "Let me meet the woman of the Southern Seas."

Grandfather continues his family stories with Ivan.  He tells a tale of his own father had to compete in a horsemanship contest to win the hand of the Kirgizian woman he wanted to marry. He got himself shaved bald.  His father was very opposed to the thought of him marrying a Kirgizian woman.  His relatives start calling him a Judas. 

Great grandfather went through a ceremony and was given the name of Suleiman. 

The two contestants try to pull the other man off his horse first.  Great grandfather won that contest. 

Grandpa says in 1916 there was an uprising against the Tsar.  Great-grandfather goes to be with his father.  Great-great grandfather calls his son an infidel and says let the infidel be gone.  Great-great grandfather is told that these children are his grandchildren.  He decides to take two of the children that are white.  He will not take the ones who look a bit Asian.  Grandpa tells Ivan:  "And thus I survived the year of 1916 with my sister Darya." He and his sister were baptized and grandpa was given the name of Georgi. 

The Cossacks massacre a group of herders, among them the wife of great-great grandfather and his children.  He charges the Cossacks on horseback.  They shoot him down and then come over to check on him.  When they see he is alive they bayonet him to death.   Grandpa tells Ivan that it's not force that holds life together, but love.   

Asan rests under the shade of a tree.

Ivan goes home.  He plays the accordion looking out over the long valley.  Marja is happy to see him and sits beside her.  She rests her head on her husband's shoulder. 

Wilhelm/Vitka and his family is getting on the bus for the trip to Germany.  Ivan sees them off after protesting against the family leaving. 

Marja asks Ivan if they could move to her brother's place?  Ivan gets so angry that he chases Marja out of the house.  Anja watches as Ivan tries to catch Marja.  She finds herself a piece of wood and now she chases him.  Then suddenly Ivan stops.  He sees that Asan is back. 

A pretty river flows through the valley.  Boys take tire tubes and ride downstream on them.  Sashka is back amongst the reeds slowly riding through them looking for horses. 

Asan has a child by his wife.  He tells the nurse that the baby is not his because it is fair-skinned.  The nurse tells him:  "Papa, dear, only one child was born last night, and that was your son!  So stop causing a commotion!"

Asan and Ivan are at a celebration and they dance in costumes involving horse figures.  They jostle each other and circle around each other pretending to be clashing.  They do this to the sound of Kazakh music. 


Interesting film.  It can be seen as a black comedy because the situations are just so crazy that they are funny. On the other hand it can be interpreted as being a drama tainted by racism.  But the racism probably was secondary to the fact of the wives of the two men both having mixed race children  The white wife and white husband have a brown baby.  The brown wife and the brown husband have a white baby.  This type of situation goes beyond racism because the husbands will be constantly reminded of their wives' infidelities.  This would be a constant irritant in the lives of the couples  --an irritant that would hurt the upbringing of the children.  The relatives of the white couple were not at all amused by the white woman having a brown baby with her white husband.  (Certainly the brown child was hurt by his experiences with the white couple.)  The problem is not so much race as infidelity.  Regardless, the film was funny.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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