Skinning the animal before methodically removing its organs and meat, it's clear that violence is an integral part of life in this quaint, bucolic region. At school, Aslan isn't quite so empowered, and after being humiliated during a medical examination, he finds himself ostracised by his classmates. The school represents its own microcosm of society, with Aslan's main tormentor, Bolat (Alsna Anarbayev), the leader of an extortion ring that has seized control of the school's classrooms. Plagued by self-doubt and a compulsion towards cleanliness, Aslan soon finds himself forced into a corner with only one conceivable way out of this tyrannical regime of brutality.
Utilising symmetry to express the claustrophobic atmosphere of this stiflingly diminutive society, Harmony Lessons is meticulously framed, enclosing the action within these metaphysical walls of invisible oppressions. Each shot seemingly contains some underlying symbolism - be it the clinical torture of cockroaches or the origami flowers created out of boredom. Combine this heavily emblematic approach with the affective use of bright, sterile lighting and bleached composition and you have a film that's both aesthetically hypnotic, yet tainted by a repugnant cocktail of violence, despair and malevolence. Thematically imbuing the visuals of European arthouse with the cold, detached and unflinching approach to violence of Japanese cinema, Harmony Lessons is a truly unique amalgamation of Eastern and European film.
Whilst transparent in its overriding message - that our society is one evolved by the ingrained theorem of survival of the fittest - Harmony Lessons' gratuitous use of torture and implied slaughter hides an even scarier message behind its veneer of unrelenting brutalisation, articulated best by Aslan's grandmother. When asked "Can a man live without meat?", her solemn and dispiritedly resigned reply - "Maybe in heaven" - imparts an unforgettable sensation of gut-wrenching hopelessness.
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