Turkey/Germany, 2008, colour, 106 mins
* Director/Screenplay: Özcan Alper
* Photography: Feza Çaldiran
* Editor: Thomas Balkenhol
* Art Director: Canan Çayir
* Sound: Mohammed Mokhtari
* Music: Yuri Rydahencko, Ayşenur Kolivar, Sumru Agiryürüyen
* Producers: F. Serkan Acar
* Production Company: Kuzey Film Production
* Cast: Onur Saylak, Raife Yenigül, Megi Kobaladze, Serkan Keskin, Nino Lejava, Sibel Öz, Cihan Çamkerten, Serhan Pir, Yaşar Güven
There were two films playing in the 2008 Sarajevo Film Festival revolving around the subject of a recently released convict trying and largely failing to resume a normal life - the other was Thanos Anastopoulos’ Correction (διόρθωση, Greece, 2007). Of the two, Özcan Alper’s feature debut Autumn was the more accomplished work, not least thanks to Feza Çaldiran’s ravishing landscape photography ensuring that there was plenty to look at even when the narrative ran out of steam in the final act.
The film begins with Yusuf’s release from prison, having spent ten years behind bars for his involvement in political protests while at university. He’s released on health grounds, and we’re told at the start that his lungs are barely functioning, signalling in advance that the events of the film will merely be a brief coda to a short life, a third of which was spent incarcerated. He moves back in with his elderly mother in a remote village in the mountainous region of eastern Turkey, and rapidly discovers that aside from the young schoolboy Onur (with whom he strikes up a brief rapport over the latter’s maths homework: Yusuf was a promising mathematician before fate intervened), virtually all the local inhabitants are from his mother’s generation due to the lack of opportunities, and he’s warned that if he stays with them he’ll become like them.
But despite an apparent job offer from his friend Cihan’s magazine, Yusuf does indeed stay with them, his mindset demonstrated by him tuning out the chatter of fellow villagers awaiting a minibus to stare at a slug on the ground (he later claims that everything moves too fast for him outside prison). His old friend Mikahil lives nearby, and attempts to liven things up by taking him out for the evening with two Georgian prostitutes, Maria and Eka, but instead Yusuf ends up having a long heart-to-heart with Eka about her own life as a single mother to a four-year-old girl.
Both similarly damaged by circumstances outside their control, Yusuf and Eka seem made for each other, but the distance between them seems unbridgeable by psychological issues that he can’t put into words, and which she lacks the Turkish to express (a revealing post-lovemaking shot sees them both curled up in a foetal position, simultaneously close and distant). He tries to take up music again after restoring a set of Turkish bagpipes, but his lungs aren’t up to the job - and it’s only a seemingly ill-advised trip to the top of the mountain accompanied by a reluctant Mikahil that gives him any kind of fulfilment.
Hints of Yusuf’s experience in prison are conveyed through brief video footage (random flashbacks can be triggered by anything, even slippered feet on a carpet take on the sound of hobnails on concrete) and overheard television news items about dangerous and insanitary conditions, but Alper generally eschews direct political comment - the only details of Yusuf’s “crime” are conveyed via cryptic one-liners delivered by others: he “wanted socialism”, he “got mixed up in this anarchist business”. While inside, his father died and his sister married and moved away, meaning that Yusuf becomes the primary focus of his mother’s life, and subjected to yet more pressure to marry and settle down.
But the narrative content generally plays second fiddle to some gorgeous images, usually framing Yusuf against the flora and fauna of the village hills. Autumn is signalled by a single yellow leaf drifting past a wooden window frame, and encroaching winter by a fog-blanket settling lower and lower down the slopes. A late encounter between Yusuf and Eka becomes a study in shades of blue, a funeral sees a red coffin carried along a snow-blown mountain path, while a beach encounter at sunset sees the screen split into three strips: deep orange sky, reflected by the texture of the water, the shore in the foreground almost black.
Towards the end, Alper overdoes it somewhat - a scene where Eka complains that Yusuf is like a character from a Russian novel feels like a scriptwriter’s contrivance, and a shot of Yusuf standing on a platform looking out to sea as the waves crash around him would be overwrought even without the swelling orchestral music - though this upping of the visual melodrama is possibly in self-conscious compensation for the fact that the narrative has almost entirely fizzled out by this stage. But for a debut, it’s a very promising piece of work, and it’ll be interesting to see where Alper goes from here.
Posted on 21st August 2008