Second time with Ceylan, after Uzak (couldn’t find a big Turkish or English poster anywhere).
The two are similar in many ways; the shift in mood (mood is integral) is illustrated by the echoed Wanderer images: here, and in Uzak. This is darker, bleaker, (U is funnier) more spare with the tumbling Istanbul landscape exchanged mostly for interiors but creating greater more total isolation.
“It must be interesting living here.” “It’s kind of boring really.” Out of the furnace of the holiday this becomes a film mostly about ‘everything else’ (the negative space in Wheatley’s Down By Law) – banal, in no way romanticised. It’s daring: a concerted Beckettian effort to negate every possible entry route or point of empathy.
The holiday is traumatic because it cuts Isa adrift, and us with him; felt like this severing of the pair dynamic was a pointed departure from Uzak which made for a less successful result, less tension. Like an honest Inside Llewyn Davis: we are shackled to Isa; there is no alternative; minor characters are left enigmatically incomplete, the strange unaccountability of their motivations becoming a central theme. This frustrating complexity works better than the over-definition and -revelation in Farhadi’s The Past (kept thinking of this comparison – I think because Uzak is, likewise, Ceylan’s A Separation. I’d say its 1-1.)
Another moment for comparison: my favourite scene in Uzak is when the photographer lazily decides not to take any pictures of the stunning Anatolian landscape after all, and the camera pans with the leaving car petulantly denying us any opportunity to take it in. Here Isa takes pictures of the monastery but again turns his back, instead awkwardly inviting his young cabbie to appear seriously in the foreground: “It would be nice to have someone in the picture for a change…”
…Isa really is loathsome, empty. “I’ve really changed” he says. “I really feel I can change.” Like the photographer in Uzak he is afraid of appearing pathetic; the scene with Serap and the nuts is thick with menace, her laughter hanging on and exceeding the phatic-level interaction that dominates the film’s and Isa’s world (him clowning as a mute, revealing attempt to continue interaction), thereby cutting into him. (So much of the dialogue here is negative, almost place-holding) Hers is a knowing voice, and he tries to crush it, but she comes back anyway – because she’s seen deep enough to laugh?
Leviathan is another touchstone, and yes indeed Antonioni (unintentional consecutive comparison: this feels more honest, less grandiose, but misses the singular visuals [barring the stifling long takes and the scenes of intimacy, of which the beach and the rape are terrifying – the former actually nightmarish, the latter oppressively awake – and the hotel enigmatic, the jolting deflation in Anomalisa but wordless and bathetic])
Ebru Ceylan (Nuri’s real life wife) stole it. Recalled Dreyer: “There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration.” The opening scene is perfect; her single-shot transition from amusement to melancholy to desperation is typical of the film and its best example. Made me think of Agnes awakening in Cries and Whispers, but how did we get here? I like, too, that we come full circle, and then the disappearance.
Ceylan is my favourite
pessimist realist. This one is pure, and for the purists.