Balaban is the touching story of the coming-of-age relationship between two teenage HIV-positive girls in Kazakhstan and their journey toward freedom and love. Based on real-life events, writer and director Aysulu Onaran highlights the case of 160 children who were infected with HIV during blood transfusions in Kazakhstan in 2006 when untested blood was used on them.
Kazak’s Zhanna (Irena Gylko) and Ardak (Kamila Fun-So) are from opposite sides of the tracks. Zhanna has had a rich spoilt upbringing whereas Ardak grew up in an orphanage. They are both HIV positive as the result of blood transfusions received as toddlers. Both their fathers had left home once they discovered their daughters were HIV positive. Now teenagers, they meet at a social group for HIV-positive youth in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakstan. The two girls quickly connect and start hanging out together. Zhanna gets her HIV meds from a private doctor and is only on two pills a day whereas Ardak gets hers from a government service and is on many older medications and suffers a lot of side effects. They both bemoan the fact that they are living their lives trapped by medication and also socially unable to disclose their HIV status. They dream of running away to Paris where they believe they can live freer lives together.
Ardak works with her uncle who smuggles falcons caught in the wild and sells them to rich arab customers. The two girls plan to steal a prize-winning rare falcon, sell it, and use the proceeds to flee together to Paris to start their new lives. So far, so good, but their plan takes them on a rather more complicated journey than they expected.
Kazakh-born Onaran worked for a decade in a charity with HIV-positive youth in Kazakhstan. Her beautiful film shines a light on HIV+ and LGBTQ+ communities in that region. Atmospherically shot in Kazakstan’s scenic mountainous region, and with a strong soundtrack, this is a gentle, modern love story with its fair share of drama. Strong casting and a couple of interesting sub-plots will keep your attention. The film offers a rare glimpse into queer HIV+ life in a part of the world few of us know much about. Great film-making.
PS Currently Balaban is streaming on KLASSIKI
Queerguru’s Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah
Labels: 2022, drama, HIV, Kaszakhstan, lesbian, review, Ris Fatah