The Light Thief Review

Film Still
  • The Light Thief  film still


A seemingly light and even simple work, The Light Thief has hidden depths.

Kyrgyzstan’s official submission to the 2010 Academy Awards, The Light Thief is a visually accomplished political allegory about the economic situation in Kyrgyzstan since the collapse of the USSR. Though dry as a bone on paper, writer/director Aktan Arym Kubat avoids didacticism, creating a work that manages to be warm, witty and engaging.

They call him ‘Svet-Ake’ (‘Mr Light’). The electrician is responsible for bringing more than just light to the people around him. Like moths, everybody is drawn to his kindness: those with short circuits in their electricity; and those with short circuits in their marriage; those who have taken all the power in the city; and those who have given up the will to live.

He helps everyone and is everywhere. He doesn’t even shy from breaking the law – rewinding an old and lonely pensioner’s electricity meter so the State owes him money. The economic devastation of the country has had an enormous impact on the working people, and yet despite the upheaval they have not lost the ability to love, to suffer, to share their lives with friends, and enjoy what they have.

Winningly portrayed by Kubat himself, Svet-Ake is a resilient synthesis of Amélie and Robert De Niro’s renegade handyman from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Working against the backdrop of economic and political upheaval and a country in the midst of a revolution, the electrician offers an antidote to the obsession with greed and personal enrichment of the ruling class, existing as a quiet but always present symbol of hope.

Though an attempt to capture the atmosphere of the director’s childhood, The Light Thief steers clear of a documentary aesthetic. It is pure fiction, despite being drawn from the collapse of the USSR and the attendant demise of the entire Kyrgyz industrial system that left an entire nation unemployed. Adopting a highly intuitive approach to filmmaking, which welcomes happenstance and rejects reconstruction, Kubat and his largely non-professional actors have created a distinctive and distinguished work that is often quite magical and radical.

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