How Uzbek film Sunday became a festival favourite around the world

Director Shokir Kholikov reveals drama that has earned several awards was shot in only 10 days

Abdurakhmon Yusufaliyev and Roza Piyazova star as the elderly couple at the centre of Shokir Kholikov’s Sunday. Photo: Red Sea International Film Festival
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Shokir Kholikov’s debut feature film Sunday explores generational tension in rural Uzbekistan, telling a story that, although rooted in cultural specificities, resonates with a universal timbre.

Perhaps for this reason, the film has become a festival favourite around the world. It has racked several top awards, including at the Shanghai International Film Festival, the Kerala International Film Festival, as well as the Red Sea International Film Festival.

Sunday revolves around an elderly carpet-weaving couple whose peaceful life is upended when their sons begin introducing modern technology to the household. These include a new refrigerator that doesn’t roar and shudder, a flat-screen television to replace their beloved cathode ray tube and a stove that can ignite without matches.

The changes happen gradually, but although the intention is to enhance the couple’s standard of living, the technology soon disrupts routines they hold dear.

“It’s all based on real life,” Kholikov says. “Wherever you look, younger people want something new. They want their parents to live better, to live a comfortable life and they want to create that comfortable life. This is applicable everywhere in the world. I just took it from real life and depicted it in film.”

Sunday is paced thoughtfully, reflecting on the languid rhythm of daily life in the Uzbek village. Between the film’s subtle symbolisms and visual sensibilities, it is impressive to think the work is Kholikov’s first feature. The Uzbek director sidesteps follies that typically weigh down debut works. The story does not stray from its core concerns. It is not muddled by a menagerie of themes, characters or superfluous dialogue. Instead, Sunday is sharply focused with just enough allegorical visuals to make a lasting impression.

To achieve this, a bit of ruthless editing was required. “The movie was an hour and 45 minutes long,” Kholikov says. “I have a mentor who took a look at the film and said the tempo was a bit monotonous. I took that advice to change the pacing. We ended up taking out 10 minutes. It didn’t affect the idea and the purpose of the movie or the message it was conveying.”

Of course, a film is only as good as its cast, and Sunday, a film that pivots around domestic nuances, is no exception. Abdurakhmon Yusufaliyev and Roza Piyazova have a charming dynamic as the elderly couple. Conversations between them are brief and their relationship is built around tacit and gestural communications. This gives a heightened dimension to their performances, which gracefully lilt between tension and levity.

There were some challenges with finding the right actors to play the parts of the elderly couple. “I worked with Yusufaliyev previously while creating a short film,” Kholikov says. “When I wrote the script, he was already on my mind for the part. For the old woman, however, I was looking for someone for four months. Interestingly, I didn’t find her within [Uzebkistan]. I found her in Karakalpakstan.”

Piyazova, he says, embodied many of the characteristics he had envisioned for the old woman in the film. “She was very nice, down to earth, and humble. I thought she would fit this role ideally,” Kholikov says.

Remarkably, Sunday took just 10 days to shoot, filming in late October in Zaamin in Uzebkistan’s Jizzakh Region, which is also the location of the country’s oldest nature reserve. The lushness of the area is communicated in the film, with plenty of sweeping scenes that hint at the surrounding forests and meadows.

“We planned to film it in 25 days,” Kholikov says. “But I was financed later in the year and the season of rains were coming. We’d film one day and it would rain two days after that, so we had to stop. Overall, we managed to film across 10 days.”

Sunday has yet to have an official premiere in Uzbekistan. The film was shown in a closed screening, however, and was received warmly, Kholikov says, with some saying that other young filmmakers should take note of the work and follow suit. There are plans for the film to be screened in Uzbekistan soon and Kholikov is looking forward to seeing how it is received.

Updated: January 11, 2024, 3:05 AM