Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020) at Fantasia

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (Zhanym, ty ne poverish) has its Canadian première on demand at Fantasia 2021

The opening sequence of Yernar Nurgaliyev’s Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (Zhanym, ty ne poverish) shows Dastan (Danyar Alshinov) in a department store, browsing a copy of Steve Harvey’s Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man (on gender relations), while nearby a security guard keeps resetting the channel on the store’s television. First there is a programme about the hypersexuality of the pygmy chimpanzees that dwell on the banks of the Congo river, then another on the fishing trip as a ‘sacred’ rite for men, and then a news report (opening with the words “Don’t go fishing”) about a series of missing person cases outside of town. 

All this will prove programmatic, as Dastan, constantly hen-pecked by his heavily pregnant wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) and uncertain about both his married life and his approaching paternity, heads off into the Kazhak hinterland with two old school buddies for their initiation into the male rite of fishing. Arman (Azamat Marklenov) delivers love dolls and dildoes to a country where sex shops see little footfall but online sales are huge; diminutive Muram (Yerlan Prynsetov) is a community policeman and still a virgin; and together these three barely competent man-children set off into the wilderness hoping to rediscover and repair their frayed male bond.  


This crisis of masculinity is key to Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It, as our inept trio encounters not just blundering gangsters (Rustem Zhanyamanov, Almat Sakatov, Beckarys Akhetov), but also some very strange locals, including a perverted father and daughter, and a scarred, silent one-eyed ‘skin head’ (Dulgya Akmolda), all muscle and menace, who seeks vicious bloody revenge on the lot of them for the accidental death of his dog. This is a crazy, colourful collision of sensibilities and genres, as the buddy comedy of Ron Underwood’s City Slickers (1991) meets the outdoors ordeals of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), and the male criminal bungling of the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996), Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000) and Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain (2013) meets the backwoods horror of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Rob Schmidt’s Wrong Turn (2003). 

The truth is that those who survive this high-bodycount fishing trip do emerge, wounded and limping, as better men, more comfortable, confident even, with who they are and what they want. Yet as one of the TV programmes at the start of Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It suggested, this transformative outdoors rite de passage is something that women will not always understand or appreciate – and the forthcoming explanation for the events that have unfolded and the losses incurred will not, as indeed the film’s title implies, easily convince. For in this hilariously chaotic clusterfuck of a film, masculinity remains a mystery to and beyond the end.

strap: Yernar Nurgaliyev’s multi-genre survival comedy sends man-children fishing in a wilderness of trouble

© Anton Bitel