Posts tagged ‘Turkey’

Hossein Amini was behind the screenplays for Iain Softley’s adaptation of The Wings Of The Dove and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, among others, so he was reasonably well-known among film fans before making his debut as a director with 2014’s The Two Faces Of January. As first projects go it’s a fairly safe bet: based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name, it’s a close cousin to her Ripley stories, some of which have successfully made the transition from page to screen before, most notably in 1960 (Plein Soleil) and 1999 (The Talented Mr. Ripley). Amini adapted this particular book himself, and wisely he stayed true to the early-1960s setting, thereby allowing his stars to look pretty damn good in their smart and stylish vintage costumes. The three in question are Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac; the former two play Chester and Colette McFarland, an American married couple on holiday in Athens, while the latter is Rydal, a young American tour guide who scams tourists in his newly-adopted Greek home. All three appear to come from moneyed backgrounds, though as per usual with Highsmith’s stories initial appearances can be deceptive, and the two men in particular are adept at keeping their true intentions and their past indiscretions hidden. Their paths cross at the Acropolis, initially, and Rydal lays the charm on thick, impressing Colette while simultaneously irritating (and later conning) Chester. The trio do share an enjoyable evening together along with Rydal’s date Lauren (Daisy Bevan), but later on Rydal discovers Chester isn’t the man he thought he was, and witnesses the aftermath of a situation that developed in the McFarland hotel suite: Rydal initially tries to help Chester as he feels he will be rewarded handsomely for any services he can provide, but he also does this so that he can spend more time with Colette, and as their mutual attraction develops the two men end up at loggerheads.


Oscar Isaac in The Two Faces Of January

Amini makes a decent fist of it: the three main actors are fine – though it’s a shame that none of them excel – and the material has been handled confidently enough, the director notably employing a brisk pace and a number of medium and long shots to show off the impressive locations. The narrative skips from mainland Greece across the sea to Crete – the labyrinth of Knossos featuring during one vaguely twisty sequence – and on to Turkey, where the bazaars of Istanbul form the backdrop for a final act showdown. It’s all rendered in a very modishly-retro and sun-kissed fashion, though I wonder whether the emphasis is on style at the expense of substance; the title of Highsmith’s book nods to Greek mythology, but Amini struggles to link this ancient culture to his American characters, save for a brief shot of a mural depicting Theseus and the Minotaur after Chester and Rydal come to blows. The trio aren’t particularly memorable or interesting, and what happens to each one in turn is fairly predictable; no doubt it’s because of the Mediterranean setting but I kept wanting a Tom Ripley or a Dickie Greenleaf to suddenly gatecrash the film. Still, there are some enjoyable tense moments, particularly as characters attempt to outsmart one another at ferry terminals and airports, and all told it’s a neat, compact and unchallenging thriller, containing the kind of lovely cinematography that’ll make you ache for a holiday in south-western Europe.

Directed by: Hossein Amini.
Written by: Hossein Amini. Based on The Two Faces Of January by Patricia Highsmith.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst.
Cinematography: Marcel Zyskind.
Editing: Nicholas Chaudeurge, Jon Harris.
Music: Alberto Iglesias.
Certificate: 12.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Year: 2014.


The debut film by Turkish-born, French-raised filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a strong, convincing drama that explores the bond between – and treatment of – five sisters living within an ultra-conservative Turkish village. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture earlier this year and won four prizes at the Césars, including one for the screenplay by the director and her writing partner Alice Winocour (herself the director of the recent thriller Disorder), and one for the original soundtrack by the Australian musician Warren Ellis. Few of the award ceremonies and festivals – major or minor – appear to have picked up on the excellent ensemble performance by the cast, though, particularly those playing the five sisters, who between them had very little acting experience beforehand. Their naturalistic performances are uniformly excellent, and together they completely convince as siblings, whether they’re sharing in-jokes together or goofing around in tangled heaps on the floor.

At the beginning of the film we see all of the girls – Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale, in order of age – on the last day of term, innocently playing with several male schoolmates in the sea. A minor amount of physical contact between the (still clothed) girls and boys causes a scandal to erupt within the community, and the sisters are all harshly punished for their behaviour by their legal guardians: a grandmother (Nihal Koldaş) and her son Erol (Ayberk Pekcan), who is also the girls’ uncle. (The boys, presumably, are not punished, and the screenplay implies as much by ignoring the other party completely, instantly highlighting how girls are treated differently.) In the wake of the incident – supposedly based on something that happened to the director when she was young – the three older girls are subjected to tests at the hospital to check that they are still virgins, while Lale (Güneş Şensoy) – the youngest and sparkiest – verbally attacks the woman who was originally outraged by their behaviour. The subsequent drama is an example of what happens when oppression escalates; the house the girls live in is turned into a ‘wife factory’, with toys and items used for communication locked away and cookery lessons taking place on a daily basis. Marriages are arranged for the older sisters, and the five are kept under house arrest. They rebel, sneaking out of the window to meet boys and, during one life-affirming scene, they attend a high profile football match where only female spectators are allowed (a couple of these have taken place in Turkey during the past five years). This causes Erol to add metal grilles to the doors and windows of the house, imprisoning the girls who are not yet old enough to marry.


A haircut becomes a simple act of rebellion in Mustang.

The situation the girls are placed in is uncomfortable to consider, but conversely Mustang is – for the most part – an uplifting experience, given that the emphasis is on the dissent expressed by the sisters, as well as their unshakeable bond, which is as strong at the end of the film as it is at the beginning. One thinks of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, of course, and the two films share a hazy, soft-focus visual style, as well as certain plot points, though of course from a cultural perspective there’s some distance between them. The film caused some controversy within Turkey on its release, and the subject of women’s rights is a political hot potato within the country, given that it has repeatedly been raised as a problematic issue within the European Union, an organisation Turkey has sought accession to for a number of years. In the film the city of Istanbul is presented as a place where liberal attitudes prevail – at least in the eyes of Lale, who intends to go there if she can escape the house – and I’d be interested to know just how accurate Ergüven’s presentation of a divide between progressive city and conservative countryside actually is. It’s beautifully shot by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok, with the stiflingly-hot, early summer shoot and setting ensuring that blinding sunlight creeps into the frame repeatedly; you can feel the stickiness of the heat. With Lale in particular the film has a focus, a fearless girl whose acts of rebellion grow in tandem with her own determination to be independent and free. I hope the character and the film more generally inspire young women who are subjected to similar treatment, if of course they’re lucky enough to be able to see Mustang or are able to contribute to change within their own society. Ergüven’s film is a damning indictment of a culture in which young women are bartered and exchanged like cattle, but it’s also a force for good, and confidently-made.

Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven.
Written by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour.
Starring: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan, Nihal Koldaş, Ayberk Pekcan, Erol Afşin.
Cinematography: David Chizallet, Ersin Gok.
Editing: Mathilde Van de Moortel.
Music: Warren Ellis.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Year: 2016.




Once-Upon-a-Time-in-Anatolia-2Having watched Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or-winning Winter Sleep a couple of weeks ago I felt the need to see Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, the well-regarded non-conformist crime drama the director made a few years earlier. Both films are set in the same mountainous region of Anatolia and both are shot by Ceylan’s regular cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki, who certainly has a flair for photographing the desolate, largely-bare landscape. Yet where Winter Sleep seemed to draw back from the region’s inclement weather by ‘hibernating’ with its main characters inside a cliff-top hotel, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is for the most part set outdoors, and follows a group of people moving necessarily from one indistinguishable spot to another during a long, cold night. This group made up of a few police officers and gendarmerie forces, a couple of gravediggers, a doctor (played by Muhammet Uzuner), a prosecutor (Taner Birsel) and two suspects in custody (Fırat Tanış, Burhan Yıldız) is searching for a murder victim, who we briefly glimpse enjoying a drink with the two accused men in the film’s short prologue. Chief suspect Kenan (Tanış) is supposedly leading the police to the spot where he left the body, presumably as part of a plea bargain or a legal equivalent, but because so much of the vast landscape looks the same he becomes confused, a problem exacerbated by the fact he says he was drunk when he dumped the corpse; his brother, who was with him at the time, appears to have learning difficulties and the increasingly-exacerbated police officers direct few of their questions his way.

Much of the running time is concerned with the group’s journey to a variety of spots during the night, and the discussions that take place when they arrive at their destinations. The search is a primary concern of Ceylan’s, but while it seems as if little of note is actually happening the exact opposite is the case: a series of long conversations the director is fond of scenes that can last for up to 10 or 15 minutes apiece, a construct that distances his films from the mainstream and is designed to attract patient viewers   take place between characters, principally involving Uzuner’s doctor, and gradually their Once-Upon-A-Time-In-Anatolia-2-620x312personalities and their relationships are either clearly established or enigmatically built up, leaving the viewer with a general idea of what these men think of one another while also leaving some unanswered questions. In these scenes the doctor and Birsel’s prosecutor engage in lengthy dialogue about a separate issue regarding a woman’s heart attack, while Kenan eventually reveals what happened during the night of the murder, the brief (and understated) revelation raising the possibility that he came forward to the police and gave himself up. The group stops for food and shelter at the house of a local mayor, and several characters become briefly entranced by the mayor’s daughter, before the search continues the next morning; eventually the action (for want of a better term) moves from the open land to the town of Keskin.

Rather unusually this is a crime drama that avoids all the obvious elements of a crime drama; i.e. we don’t see the murder in question occur, or the subsequent early stages of the police investigation, or the suspects being arrested, or their trial. Instead Ceylan picks out the less interesting, more mundane aspects of police procedure: the hours spent waiting or driving around searching for crucial evidence; the satisfaction of legal procedure, embodied by the prosecutor, who gives dictates at length to an official recorder; and the autopsy of the body, a task that is usually unseen in films, most of which tend to spin on to the moment that a detective arrives at a morgue and conveniently receives key information that moves the plot forward (whereas here some vaugely revelatory information is quickly buried). The idea of watching a film that closely resembles the reality of a murder investigation, rather than the usual depiction of a sensationalised, stripped down adventure, is probably anathema to a lot of people, and I guess the idea of searching for the devil among the details for 150 minutes is too. Additionally the thought of sitting through an extremely slow, brooding piece that revels in long conversations that highlight the monotony of life will probably put even more off, but personally I have been very impressed by what I’ve seen of Ceylan’s films; the combination of pace and length is something I find a challenge, but it doesn’t put me off, and I’d rather be challenged by the films I watch than not. I’m most impressed by the way they look: each featuring alluring combinations of beautifully-lit, warm-looking interiors and distant shots of figures moving across spectacular vistas or traversing town streets. The acting across both films I’ve watched has been uniformly excellent, and the writing has thrown up a number of well-drawn, interesting characters as well. The Sergio Leone-referencing title seems like an odd choice, though, unless it was deliberately chosen to entice an international audience; I guess the landscape of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is similar to that of Once Upon A Time In The West, but if there’s another link I’m afraid it has gone over my head.

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Written by: Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Kesal.
Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yılmaz Erdoğan, Taner Birsel, Fırat Tanış.
Cinematography: Gökhan Tiryaki.
Editing: Bora Gökşingöl, Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Running Time:
150 minutes.


winter-sleep-2014-007-town-in-rocks-in-snow_1000x750With this long, slow Palme d’Or-winning family drama Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns to the same central Anatolian steppe setting of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, the land a striking mixture of rocky outcrops and vast, open plains, much of which is gradually covered in snow as the film progresses and winter takes hold. In Winter Sleep time seems to slow right down as the weather outside gradually becomes harsher and the temperature cools, and the second of its three hours mostly consists of a few contrasting indoor scenes that feature long fire-lit conversations between the three main characters, where it seems as though close proximity during their own periods of hibernation has caused previously-buried tension to rise to the surface; they are Aydın (Haluk Bilginer), who several years earlier inherited a remote hotel and the freehold of several houses built beneath it, his young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and his sister Necla (Demet Akbağ), both of whom make repeated comments that reveal their longing for the city life of Istanbul. Though there have been hints leading up to these conversations that the two women share a growing dislike for Aydin (for different reasons), or rather what Aydin has become / is becoming, during this hour we hear their specific gripes in detail, and Aydin isn’t shy in coming forward with his own complaints in response. We have some sympathy with the women as, by this point, we have been made aware of some of Aydin’s flaws: as a rich landlord literally lording it over his tenants from above he has a strained relationship with the poor villagers, principally shown through incidents involving the extended local family of a well-meaning imam (Serhat Kılıç). He writes a pompous weekly column for a local newspaper and appears to be lazy, passing much of his work on to uncomplaining assistant Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan). Later still we learn that Aydin was an actor, and a conceited one at that; in a rather snobby way he quickly iterates to a hotel guest that he was never in any soap operas, and when said guest explains that he is publishing a small book of essays Aydin instantly responds that he too is writing, though he can’t resist adding that his will be ‘a thick, serious book’. We also discover that Nihal is funding local schools in need of development but the project is not supported by Aydin, partly for the petty reason that he does not like some of the people Nihal is dealing with.

Ceylan’s screenplay – based loosely on Anton Chekhov’s The Wife and co-written by the director with long-term collaborator (and other half) Ebru Ceylan – is intelligent and never turns its central character into a monster. We see, for example, the genial, friendly conversations he has with his last remaining guests before the snow worsens and the hotel is empty; based on this small talk he appears to be a good host, even if he doesn’t actually do much in the way of cooking or cleaning himself. Yet it’s through the flaws that the character fascinates, and it’s a wonderful central performance by Bilginer, who is more-than-ably supported by the rest of the cast. The long, novel-sized conversations that take place between them slowly reveal the state of their relationships, while either side of these beautifully-shot exercises in dramatic dialogue lie a number of more instant (and more memorable) scenes: an attempted capture of a horse; a boy throwing a rock at a passing vehicle; the resulting argument; the same boy being forced to walk for miles in bad weather to kiss Aydin’s hand by way of apology, only to collapse during the onset of pneumonia; a hunted rabbit breathing its last; smoke flickering in the wind. Cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki turns the landscape into a wonder and each shot  whether interior or exterior  has been carefully framed and realised with great skill. The film’s structure is intriguing and the deliberately unhurried pace allows us to find out about these characters slowly, making them seem more realistic than we may have come to expect, even with regards to European arthouse cinema. I’m loathe to describe it as a masterpiece, as I have to admit there were times when watching it felt exhausting, but it’s a fine piece of filmmaking if you have the requisite patience.

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Written by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan.
Starring: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbağ, Serhat Kılıç, Ayberk Pekcan.
Cinematography: Gökhan Tiryaki.
Editing: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Bora Göksingöl.
Running Time:
196 minutes.