In the Mood for Love: Baydarov Searches for a Real Love in Enigmatic Road Trip
All you need is love, if you can find it, that is. Or so seems to be part of the sometimes- inscrutable intention of In Between Dying, the sophomore narrative feature of Azerbaijanian director Hilal Baydarov. Following his 2018 debut Hills Without Names, Baydarov has embarked on a flurry of documentary projects, releasing five titles since then, which includes the thematic “Katech” trilogy, making him one of the most prolific voices in contemporary cinema from his country.
An elliptical love story which plays like a prophetic fable, it is also a narrative peppered with jolting moments of both violent liberations and considerable resilience with feminist subtexts hinting at cultural reconsiderations of gender norms and agency which unite in an intoxicating metaphorical fate.
Davud (Orkhan Iskandarli, of Hills Without Names) is introduced as a somewhat unpleasant, ornery figure juxtaposed with his earnest omniscient thoughts about the necessity of leaving home to find love. As a counter, a woman’s whispery thoughts state the opposite, of staying in one place, like a rabid dog, until love comes calling. He chastises his mother for failing to alert him of his father’s death, which has brought him home from university, and then regales her for using his designated cup for drinking tea before setting off on a road trip which will bring him into contact with several women living in anguish. Not unlike something you’d expect from Jarmusch, these instances end with either violence or drastic action. A chained young woman, supposedly rabid, is unleashed, biting and killing her father, and an altercation in the cemetery leads to Davud being pursued across the country by three men, each observing the drastic aftermath of his presence.
There’s an air of almost comic misfortune which befalls Davud’s frantic search for love, which he feels is the only purpose in life, and that “everything is built on love.” Such doggedness, of course, brings him back to the starting point, where the actual chance for love rests in the woman who had been waiting there for love to find her. “I am created for love,” she confirms, which at least puts them on the same page as far as sharing the same ideals.
Of course, it’s too late for Davud, we’re meant to realize, because his actions in the world have had consequences. And yet, there’s a fateful salvation which his journey has incurred on several subjugated women along the way, which thematically connects them all as the same piece of the cloth, as if players from some Greek tragedy.
Perhaps the most effective sequence features Ilaha (Narmin Hasanova), a woman whose face is never seen, always in long shot with her back to the camera. She gives Davud water, cleans up his clothes, and tells him her story of abuse which has relegated her as a ‘watcher of the road’ as a means to escape her abusive, alcoholic husband. It ends with the film’s most cathartic moment, linking to the next young woman Davud assists who is fleeing an arranged marriage, citing the fate of Ilaha as her rationale for doing so. It adds to the film’s darkening poetry of Davud’s drive, as he sighs “Every breath brings me closer to you,” in reference to the faceless, nameless love her pursues. Eerily, it suggests the bride designated for Davud could indeed be Death.
That he is drawn back to square one plays like a beautiful reversal of Orpheus and Eurydice—as if his zealousness for love has cast him behind her back, leading him straight back to his place of discontent, presented as a sort of hell since what he desires is there but still tantalizingly out of reach.
Both stylistically, and at time thematically, Baydarov’s film plays like an early Nuri Bilge Ceylan film with its dreamlike landscapes, especially those involving a prolonged motorcycle ride, recalling the 2006 title Climates. It’s certainly no surprise to find Baydarov is championed by the sterling likes of Cristian Mungiu and Carlos Reygadas (who co-produced), and notably the film also features Joslyn Barnes (Capernaum, 2018) as co-producer while actor Danny Glover is an executive producer. With In Between Dying, Baydarov certainly feels like an innovative new cinematic voice with this strange road trip which truly exemplifies the sentiment of a whole life being lived in a day.
Reviewed virtually on September 11th at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. Main Competition – 88 Mins.