It also appears to be a hit with audiences. A festival representative told RFE/RL that the film "has been playing to very strong audience response and building strong word of mouth."
It's an unsettling portrait of a schoolboy's suffering and angst at the hands of a school bully, who is himself an instrument of more powerful forces of evil at work in society, and his methodical pursuit of revenge.
WATCH: A scene from "Harmony Lessons" with English subtitles:
"The Village Voice's" Stephanie Zacharek included it in her festival preview "Tribeca Lives! Ten Films To See At A Fest That's All Grown Up."
The parallels with the workings of Kazakhstan's heavy-handed political leadership don't appear to have been lost on Western viewers.
Online reviewer Christopher Bourne at Twitchfilm.com calls the Kazakh- and Russian-language feature "a brilliantly directed tale of school and state cruelty straight outta Kazakhstan."
He calls the opening scene -- a playful romp that coolly turns more clinical -- "a clear signal to the viewer that this will not be some innocuous, exoticizing look at a culture distant to Westerners, but will delve into much darker areas."
He notes that the film was cast with amateurs, from the long-suffering main character Aslan (Timur Aidarbekov) through the ranks of the classmates that populate the drama and highlight the diversity of Kazakh society, from a big-city transplant who pines for the "Happylon" mall in Almaty to the devout Muslim girl who persists in wearing her head scarf despite the teacher's admonitions.
One festival reviewer, Frederic Boyer, even compares the 28-year-old Baigazin's celluloid touch to that of Robert Bresson, a giant of French cinema who had a similar penchant for using amateur actors, and "the best parts of Japanese film noir."
"Harmony Lessons" was also well received in February at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it took home an "Outstanding Artistic Contribution" award.
-- Andy Heil