Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2012 1:12 am 
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By the wayside

Debuted at Venice, the Turkish female director Yeşim Ustaoğlu's fifth feature Araf is about a teenage girl working at a highway restaurant who falls for an older man who'se a truck driver, who gets her pregnant, then fades out of the picture. A young coworker is in love with her and eventually they get together, but under unusual circumstances. It may be unusual even to have a female filmmaker in Turkey, and Ustaoğlu has chosen a bold theme, which she develops with excruciating, drawn-out realism. There are surprises. Things seem depressing, yet there's almost a feel-good ending: the outcome for the young woman, Zehra (Neslihan Atagül) and her disenchanted beau Olgun (Baris Hacihan) is still hanging "somewhere in between" -- and the Turkish word araf means limbo, or even purgatory -- but the lovely classical Turkish orchestral piece that accompanies the closing credits is full of warmth and hope. Events are excruciatingly slow to unfold; the 128-minute runtime might have been reduced by 20 minutes. But the editing is assured, and the widescreen color cinematography by Michael Hammon is almost distractingly beautiful. The images and wintry setting expressionistically underline the themes and situation. A lot here has class, but there's serious misjudgment in the drawn-out, disgusting miserable lives (poisoned dogs, drunkenness, spousal abuse, a too-vivid miscarriage), the feel-good finale is gratuitous and tacked-on, and most of the film meanders aimlessly. Can one recommend this film? Certainly not. Do the director and her young actors Atagül and Hacihan have talent? Definitly yes.

When the attractive Zehra first sees the grizzled Mahur (Ozcan Deniz) pulll up in his big truck she is fascinated. She knows Olgun, a young man with a sensual face, is interested in her, but she rebuffs him. Both Zehra and Olgun are paired with best friends. When Olgun's, who trawls websites with him looking for sex, announces that he's being drafted into the army, they speculate about how they will survive without each other's company, but Olgun shows his sensitivity, or romanticism, by declaring that their friendship is a love he carries deep in his heart. Zehra's best pal is her older but handsome-looking co-worker Delya (Nihal Yalcin). Delya too surfs the Internet with Zehra, urging her to consider better jobs and the possibility of dating men beyond their little area in the Caucasus, which is not prosperous.

A major scene is a wedding arty that Zehra sneaks off to with Delya, against the wishes of her stolid mother. For whatever reason, all the principals are there, and Zehra dances up close to Mahur, while Olgun dances close by, but outside Zehra's interest range. For some reason Ustaoğlu chooses to keep the encounters between Zehra and Mahur almost completley wordless, except for Zehra's plea, "Take me with you." It's not heeded. While Zehra is finding out she's pregnant by Mahur, and Delya gradually reveals that she'd gone through something similar and gave up the baby for adoption, Olgun is flying into a furious rage with his mother, who goes off, and his father, who is a drunken pig. His actions lead to prison.

Araf/Somewhere in Between debuted at Venice. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.

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