According to an old Islamic legend, everyone has two invisible angels, one on each shoulder. The angel on the right records good deeds and good thoughts, while the angel on the left takes note of bad deeds. On judgement day, a person’s good deeds are weighed against the bad on the scales of justice. The person is then sent to heaven or hell.
Upon spending a decade in Moscow’s jails, tough-nut Hamro returns to his small poverty-stricken community in the former soviet republic of Tajikistan. Hamro is selfish and cruel; nothing is sacred to him, and he would sacrifice anything to satisfy his desires. Having upped and left with a huge amount of debt hanging over his head, the local Mafia is threatening his life in order to receive the money he owes to them. This anti-hero embarks on disingenuous schemes like plotting to sell his supposedly dying mother’s house in order to pay his creditors and the fallen angel puts his mothers unselfish love to the test. With the help of his young son and a pretty nurse Savri, Hamro tries to gain acceptance back into the community. It takes the traditional wisdom of his discarded elder to put him on the path towards the straight and narrow, and his mother’s invention brings about a life-enhancing miracle.
Angel On The Right is gritty, bleak viewing, much like its setting, shot in winter to create a harsh, desperate atmosphere. Cold light fills the frame in the most humble surroundings as the camera lingers along the walls of narrow derelict back streets and cloudy skies. The colour palette of greys, blacks and browns subtly underpin the bleakness of Hamro’s circumstances.
Hamro is abrupt, aggressive, direct and very much used to getting his own way and only looking out for himself. Throw into the equation a little boy and the lifestyle he deems ideal is changed for the better. Life is full of lessons and learning, but it’s only during the final scene as their bus pulls away that you believe that Hamro is finally ready to teach his son the ways of the world and start a new life together.
As a viewer I felt like I had discovered an enjoyable cinematic experience from a place I normally wouldn’t look to. A fresh change from the usual ‘Hollywood popcorn fodder’ produced these days – not an easy watch, but a movie that deserves to be seen. Angel On The Right has provided me with a newfound appreciation for Eastern European cinema. The disc lacks extras but does come complete with a six-page booklet explaining the background of the production and the directors experiences growing up with his family and their own religious beliefs.