There’s no shortage of coming of age movies, which makes their general contours rather over-familiar and sometimes wearisome. Still, the world is large enough and inspiration diverse enough that it should always be possible to make something seem fresh, which is what Turkish-born French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has done here. It’s a story of five sisters growing up without parents (their guardians are their uncle and grandmother) — which has given rise to superficial comparisons with The Virgin Suicides (1999) — whose burgeoning awareness of themselves comes into conflict with the repressive mores of their rural community, kicked off with a carefree frolic in the waves with some schoolboys. Their uncle then progressively starts entrapping them further within the home until their (arranged) marriages, making their acts of rebellion ever more circumscribed. Unlike Coppola’s film, Mustang is grounded within the experiences of the sisters, and it’s their point of view — specifically that of the youngest, Lale (Güneş Şensoy), who also narrates — which the film explores.
It would be misleading to call it triumphant, as there’s plenty of unsettling content: in terms of its setting, it seems less about the specifics of rural Turkey as of traditional patriarchal society where women’s sexuality is feared and controlled, and this is expressed via several means (an initial series of micro-aggressions which swiftly pile up). Yet this is all touched on in an artfully distanced way that almost lulls us into believing these characters are protected from the worst outcomes of patriarchy (they’re not of course), but which also preserves vestiges of hope for the sisters (who are presented with little more hope than for a good match to a tolerant husband). These manifest as little shards of narrative possibility: weaknesses in their fortress home; the presence of a nearby road and the uncle’s unguarded car. In these ways, by the end we are able to cheer small acts of defiance which also build their own momentum of resistance. It’s all directed with a deft touch and acted sensitively by (mostly) non-professionals. There’s hope for the coming of age film yet.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven; Writers Ergüven and Alice Winocour; Cinematographers David Chizallet and Ersin Gok; Starring Güneş Şensoy; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT1), London, Sunday 28 February 2016.
There are few things more disorienting in a cinematic context than going to see a film that’s made within a foreign film industry and which is not intended to be seen outside that country (or at least, by people who are not embedded within that industry’s cultural context). You can usually tell such films when they show up here by the fact they are only screened at cinemas near an existing ethnic population, and that their titles are rarely translated into English. So I can’t tell you exactly what the title of this film means, but it’s something to do with a grandfather dying, because that’s the film’s premise: a family are brought back to their home town (Malatya in Eastern Anatolia) to be by the bedside of their ailing patriarch, who has a number of commercial concerns which need to be divvied up amongst his kids and grandkids. Another thing I gather from the internet is that this film brings together the cast and crew from a popular Turkish TV show, which may explain its broadly caricatured comedy and extensive ensemble cast. From an outsider’s perspective, then, the humour doesn’t translate particularly well — it leans rather heavily on frantic mugging and comedy misunderstandings, which are probably more amusing if you know the actors, though there’s an amusing running gag about the Malatya-based wife (Özge Borak, I think), whose presentation plate set gets progressively smashed during the film. Less successful is the brief bit where the wife of the German-based son harangues her husband in German while Nutella is smeared on her upper lip in a familiar moustache-like shape. Still, I’m hardly in the best position to judge, except that it’s all very colourful and seems to be well-meaning.
Director Meltem Bozoflu; Writers Eray Akyamaner, Sila Cetindag, Ugur Güvercin, Murat Kepez, Ayberk Sak and Sükrü Özbey; Cinematographer Turksoy Golebeyi; Starring Alper Kul, Erdem Yener, Özge Borak; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Saturday 30 January 2016.
There’s probably no good reason that this film should work, but somehow — despite its wealthy characters, exotic cruise-liner-set locations (primarily Istanbul), and sudsy, at times sentimental, melodrama — it does. Perhaps this is down to director Zoya Akhtar and her female co-screenwriter, and the believability of some of their characters: there’s the mother and father Neelam and Kamal (Shefali Shah and Anil Kapoor) holding their marriage together under the strain of his philandering, their daughter Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) who runs a successful business but doesn’t love her husband, and their playboy son Kabir (Ranveer Singh) who won’t settle down like his parents want. Yet even if this could be a quality slice of televisual soap opera at times, the emphasis must still remain on the quality, beautifully filmed and acted with panache. On the downside there’s the way things resolve themselves towards a sentimental denouement, often matched with syrupy musical cues — the title does after all translate as “Let the Heart Beat” — but after almost three hours it does at least feel somewhat earned. The device of having the film narrated by the family’s dog is a little precious, too, but it allows for a fair amount of physical comedy that never quite tips into the gross-out territory that Piku unexpectedly went to earlier this year — another film with a strong female protagonist. In that role Priyanka Chopra more than holds her own, believable as a self-made woman in control of her life, even with Ranveer Singh mugging and joking winningly for the camera as her dissolute brother and a powerhouse Anil Kapoor as her controlling dad. The constant changes in tonal range can get a bit trying towards the end (surely a feature of Bollywood cinema), as we veer from light-hearted comedy to dance numbers to histrionic melodrama, but the quality of the acting and writing finally wins through.
Director Zoya Akhtar ज़ोया अख़्तर; Writers Reema Kagti ৰীমা কাগতি, Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar फरहान अख्तर; Cinematographer Carlos Catalan; Starring Priyanka Chopra प्रियंका चोपड़ा, Ranveer Singh रणवीर सिंह, Anil Kapoor अनिल कपूर, Shefali Shah शेफ़ाली शाह, Farhan Akhtar फरहान अख्तर; Length 170 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Monday 8 June 2015.
The films of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan certainly have the kind of big, sweeping qualities that attract a film festival jury, hence his Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival this year, which to my mind is overdue (his last film, 2011’s Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, still represents my favourite of his strong body of work). The camerawork is exceptional, picking out figures against the vast, beautiful landscapes he likes to work in, suggesting a harsh and difficult terrain for his characters, though the bulk of the film takes place in rather cosier indoor settings. There’s something of the epic quality that marked the films of similarly Cannes-feted Greek director Theo Angelopoulos — certainly a lot of the same kinds of weathered, world-weary faces — but with, to my mind, less pomp and less self-conscious artistry at work. The comparisons seem necessary as, quite aside from the award, Ceylan has inched beyond a three-hour running time with this latest work, a largely domestic drama set in the same Anatolian landscape as his previous film. What I enjoy about his films, which have for some time been co-written with his wife Ebru, is the precarious sense of relationships in turmoil and how that relates to a wider community. Here we have ageing ex-actor Mr Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), who owns a hotel on a beautiful hilltop promontory, and aspires to be a writer and academic. He has a younger wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) who keeps her distance, largely due to Aydin’s pompous self-involvement — he can never let an argument go, and just keeps pushing at people, including his sister and a local imam who’s renting one of his properties. The imam and his family are living in poverty and their story runs alongside that of Mr Aydin and his wife’s charitable efforts, giving the lie to their own beliefs about themselves and the work they do. Even if Aydin is one of the more aggravating central characters of recent cinema, there’s still a sense of why he acts the way he does, and that it comes from what he thinks of as a good place, though more often than not the effect can be toxic on those around him. It’s all very subtly evoked and despite the excessive running time, I never felt bored with the way it unfolds, deliberately and at times slowly, but with a graceful majesty.
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Writers Ceylan and Ebru Ceylan; Cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki; Starring Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen; Length 196 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Sunday 19 October 2014.