★★★ / ★★★★
Right from the opening sequence of the impressive Turkish picture “Baskin,” directed by Can Evrenol, we get the feeling we are in the hands of a filmmaker who knows how to helm a horror film. We are placed in a child’s bedroom when the occupant (Berat Efe Parlar) is at his most vulnerable: waking up from a nightmare and then hearing strange noises from his parents’ bedroom. The lighting is soft but controlled, the camera is deliberate in never going past the child’s height so the audience sees the action from his perspective, and there is an eerie, mysterious quiet as the boy moves from his bed and onto the hallway. We watch in careful anticipation.
There tends to be a hypnotic flow between scenes. For example, between the first scene described above and the second scene that takes place in a restaurant, the aforementioned techniques are employed: pale lighting, child’s eye view of the images, and the camera slithers through the near silence. We watch carefully as the camera rests on specific images like that of a hooded figure holding a pail, a slab of meat being cut and cooked, how the server’s face is not being shown quite deliberately. We get a sneaky feeling something big is just about to happen; Alfred Hitchcock’s influence is palpable.
Surrealistic elements are employed eventually but they do not go overboard to the point where the story becomes so muddled, we lose interest in the material since any random thing can happen. Credit to the four writers—Ogulcan Even Akay, Can Evrenol, Cem Ozuduru, and Ercin Sadikoglu—for digging into the dark corners of their imaginations and providing truly horrific imagery. There were numerous instances where I caught my mouth agape due to the sheer shock provided by certain clever turn of events. Mainstream American movies will never get away with half of what is shown here. Gorehounds will likely to be satisfied.
Its greatest potential, but ultimately not fully realized, is its mythos. I found the material refreshing exactly because the stamp of the Turkish culture can be found in every second, every beat, every pause, and moments in between. For instance, when the main character, a rookie cop named Arda (Gorkem Kasal), talks about his nightmares, how he got his name, and a few traumatizing memories, the material captivates. I was reminded of my own Filipino culture and how certain superstitions relating to the supernatural tend to contribute in shaping our identities despite the fact that we may not even believe in them. It is in our bones, our blood, our very beings—clearly this movie could not have made by the French, the Argentines, the Chinese, or anyone else because the fears are, in a way, specific to the story’s Turkish prism.
However, the film falls short of excellence because it delivers a rather uninspired ending—one that I’ve seen too many times from generic, forgettable, frustratingly bad horror pictures. With such a high level of imagination and confident execution, “Baskin” ought to have ended on a different note—whether it be odd, perplexing, or even employing a non-ending might have worked quite effectively here, a technique that is extremely difficult to pull off, one that must be earned from the beginning right up to that moment where we fall hook, line, and sinker.
And yet despite this shortcoming, “Baskin” is absolutely worth seeing, particularly by those who crave to see something a little bit different, strange, and bold. I wish horror world cinema would get appropriate world of mouth when warranted because it is about time western audiences, especially aspiring filmmakers, get out of the rut of delivering standard fares.
★★ / ★★★★
Written, directed and starring Nuri Bildge Ceylan, “Iklimer or “Climates,” was about a couple (Ceylan and his real-life wife Ebru Ceylan) who decided to break up during a holiday because they felt as though they were drifting apart despite the suggested happy years they’ve spent together. The film was divided into three parts: the break-up, the lead character’s wandering as a single man and his reconnection with a former flame (Nazan Kirilmis) and a reunion with the love of his life. This Turkish film was obviously not intended for general audiences because there were many minutes where nothing was said and pretty much the whole film had this languid tone. However, I thought that the tone fitted this picture because it reflected the characters: no one knew what they wanted but they just yearned to move on because dealing with the main problem was too painful. I also thought the silences were just right because it really highlighted the awkward moments in the conversations that eventually led up to disagreements and arguments. However, the major problem I had with this film was it didn’t spend enough time trying to understand the female lead. That very first scene got me hooked because one minute she was happy but when she decided to sit down and really thought about the situation she was in, she wanted to break down. I wanted to know the reasons why she couldn’t handle it anymore and why she stayed in the relationship for so long. Being “in love” was too simple an explanation and there were implications that were never really in love–they simply enjoyed each other’s company, like being around one’s best friend or a very nice roommate. Instead, we saw the story from the man’s perspective, which I thought wasn’t very interesting. (Sorry, guys.) The way he met up with his other lover was particuarly amusing to me, especially that aggressive sex scene. I wasn’t exactly sure if it was supposed to be funny but I laughed and I thought it was a good change of tone considering all the sadness that was happening on screen. What this film needed was more focus regarding that special connection between the former couple. With such a slow-moving film that felt longer than its running time of about a hundred minutes, focusing on the problem at hand could’ve done wonders instead of wearing out the audiences’ patience with silly sidequests. I saw moments of greatness in “Climates” when it came to the inspiring images regarding the various seasons. It’s definitely not for everyone but I somewhat enjoyed the slow burn (in parts) of this Turkish film.
Bes vakit (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
“Bes vakit,” also known as “Times and Winds,” was a story about how three children stopped being kids because of the many responsibilities that their parents thrusted upon them. Ozkan Ozen decided to kill his father because he could no longer take the maltreatment and favoritism toward his precocious brother. Elit Iscan slowly headed for breakdown because her mother insisted that she made herself useful even if the amount of schoolwork was more than enough for her to handle. And Ali Bey Kayali developed on a crush on his teacher, only to stumble on the fact that his own father was spying on her through her bedroom window. I have to be honest and state that this film was particularly difficult for me to sit through because of the many lingering shots on certain objects and sceneries. As stunning as such images were, I personally would have preferred to see more character development, dialogue and conflict among the characters. Without that emotional pull, it’s hard for me to be invested in the movie. I’m not saying that this Turkish film is not at all worth seeing, but it really is more of an acquired taste. Personally, I can withstand slow-moving pictures but this one gradually wore down my patience. The rituals that the children engaged in became a bit too redundant and I failed to see the point of it all. I also felt that the relationships among the kids weren’t established and therefore did not come together in the end. While all of them were obviously unhappy, I needed to see more commonalities among them to further observe them in multiple dimensions. Although I was able to evaluable their motivations and take note of their varying psychologies, there was still a certain detachment that did not quite dissolve as the picture went on. Written and directed by Reha Erdem, “Times and Winds” offered beautiful landscapes and a certain poetry with its tone. However, I hardly think it was strong enough to warrant a recommendation for viewers. I’m afraid this was just one of those coming-of-age films that left a bitter taste on my palate.