Sonbahar (Turkey-Germany) B y J A Y WE I S S B E R G A Kuzey Film Production (Turkey)/Filmfabrik Gmbh (Germany) production. Produced by F. Serkan Acar. Co-producers, Ersin Celik, Kadir Sozen. Directed, written by Ozcan Alper. With: Onur Saylak, Raife Yenigul, Megi Koboladze, Serkan Keskin, Nino Lejava, Sibel Oz, Cihan Camkerten, Serhan Pir, Yasar Guven. (Turkish, Georgian, Hemsin dialogue) The air of melancholy settling over the snowy hills of "Autumn" brings with it the satisfying sensation of an impressive new voice in Turkish cinema. Movingly capturing the crushed spirit of a former political prisoner who returns home to a region likewise lacking in hope, this strong work from freshman helmer Ozcan Alper beautifully balances nature with inner spirit. Though his dialogue occasionally slips into the over-explanatory, Alper's instincts are largely unerring and his way with actors secure. Winner of the national film prize at Adana, pic should go on to a richly awarded season of fest play. After 10 years in jail for unspecified leftist activities, Yusuf (Onur Saylak) is released on account of his severely compromised lungs. He returns to the densely forested slopes of the eastern Black Sea region and his mother's house, where, unlike Ulysses' loyal canine, the old family dog seems indifferent to his arrival. Yusuf's elderly mother (Raife Yenigul) is more emotional but cannot offer her son the inner nourishment he requires. Though Yusuf was born there, it's obvious to him and the mostly elderly residents that he's no longer a part of this isolated world. Longing for a connection, he contacts old school chum Mikail (Serkan Keskin), who books them a couple hotel rooms in the coastal city of Rize, complete with prostitutes Eka (Megi Koboladze) and Maria (Nino Lejava). The former is supposed to be Yusuf's date for the night, but he's not interested in a hollow hook-up. Yusuf looks to recapture a sense of vitality and convinces Mikail to take him to the snow-covered mountains, but the trip only weakens his lungs further. He reconnects with the lonely Eka, whose spirit has also been crushed; they sleep together this time, but in a beautifully composed overhead shot of their naked bodies, they rest apart, forming two separate islands on the sheets. Eka tells Yusuf he seems to have walked out of a Russian novel, but the description applies equally to them both, and as with most Russian novels, the film holds out little hope that the winter will be succeeded by a fertile spring. Alper ends with two extraordinary images, each in its way commenting on the power of untamable fate. Though pic is set in the 1990s, there's little to signal the period for a non-Turk. Communism still hangs heavily over the characters' lives, as when Eka incredulously says, "You spent the best years of your life in jail because you wanted socialism. Are you crazy?" Here, not just Yusuf parallels Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (glimpsed on a TV set); so do nations, haunted by a sense of failed idealism and the inability to reclaim what's lost. In his film debut, stage thesp Saylak starkly embodies a weakened man trying to kickstart his life-- a spark of life enters his eyes when he glimpses a ballet on TV, but his days are largely spent lying on a bench as he descends further into the reaches of a worn-out soul. The excellent Kobaladze is a perfect match, her silent face a moving register of loss. Notwithstanding a couple unnecessary flashbacks, Alper displays a mature control of his lensing, expertly moving from the golden-browns and dark greens of autumn, with all their declining beauty, to shots of the snow-covered landscape as winter settles. Music is sparingly used, never intruding but carefully, gently furthering the emotions. Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Feza Caldiran; editor, Thomas Balkenhol; music, Yuri Rydahencko, Aysenur Kolivar, Sumru Agiryuruyen, Onok Bozkurt; production designer, Canan Cayir; costume designer, Yasemin Taskin; sound (Dolby Digital), Mohamed Mokhtary, Rasim Kurtulan. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (international competition), Aug. 7, 2008. (Also in Sarajevo Film Festival -- competing; Adana Golden Cocoon Film Festival, Turkey -- competing.) Running time: 101 MIN.
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