At once gritty and pastoral, Emir Baigazin’s Harmony Lessons is an exceptionally well crafted, memorable, and lucid debut. The film follows Aslan, an intelligent, quiet teenage boy who lives on a farm in rural Kazakhstan. Lonely to begin with, Aslan experiences further alienation when he falls for a prank by a classmate who convinces the others never to befriend him.

Each frame in the film is as clean and ordered as Aslan’s compulsive tendencies. The colour palette is gorged in washed but lucid tones that restrain levity, and the story is classically existential, probing the viewer and suggesting questions steeped in ethics.

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The conclusion of the film beautifully refuses closure, inviting the viewer to project and engage. Simultaneously concrete and metaphysical, the balance and mood achieved in Harmony Lessons cannot be learned easily.

Because Harmony Lessons is intellectually and emotionally taxing, it may not be everyone’s kind of film. But, if you want to be left in a state of aesthetic arrest, Harmony Lessons is your kind of class.

The last screening during VIFF 2013 is on Thursday, October 3rd, 10:50 a.m. at International Village, screen 8.