Our Grand Despair
Dir/scr: Seyfi Teoman. Turkey-Germany-Netherland. 2011. 102mins
According to the market model, comedy and drama combine to make the genre called ‘dramedy’. Unfortunately, the mix often classifies instead as‘coma’ - which is the case for inert love-triangle cum buddy bagatelle Our Grand Despair (Bizim Büyük Çaresizligimiz). Two middle-aged Turkish men provide a home to a beautiful young student, and the result is emotional butterflies all round. The result is not cutting-edge and affable casting and undemanding good humour could make Seyfi Teoman’s film moderately marketable. It could just as easily, though, end up being remade as US romcom fodder - almost certainly with Vince Vaughn and some other Hollywood renta-nice-guy.
The direction by Teoman - who won several prizes with his first film, 2008’s Summer Book - is economical and poised, and good location use is made of Ankara over the course of a year.
Set in Ankara, the film begins with a funeral, following a car crash in which a couple have been killed. Before flying home to Germany, their adult son Fikret (Davrak) asks his best friends to look after his younger sister, university student Nihal (Sayin). The pair are lifelong chums and now flatmates - a by-the-book ‘Odd Couple’ duo comprising bespectacled highbrow Ender (Asksum) and hirsute gentle giant Çetin (Al). Nihal enters a period of depression, but after her friends deliver her to the buddies’ door, blind drunk, she moves in with them.
At first, the solicitous and always gentlemanly duo are delighted to have an adoptive kid sister around the place, but inevitably, their hearts start fluttering for this charming, youthful beauty, and their lives become a lovelorn misery. But, barring the odd squabble, little happens to really trouble their equanimity, until a younger rival comes on the scene.
The film is essentially a bromance - the two men admit to being deeply in love with each other, but hey, in a manly way. Still, referring openly to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a crashingly literal note. Too restrained to be either openly sentimental or downright crass, the film nevertheless contains some distinctively off notes. One is a bucolic picnic, where Nihal flits around in a diaphanous gown; the other is the moment when she earnestly asks Ender, “Write me a poem about the pain and uncertainty I’ve been through” (what red-blooded male could resist?).
The male leads are skillfully sketched, and likeable - at least until they mooch around dorkishly that bit too long. Aksum and Al are attuned to each other, interacting with pleasant ease. As Nihal, Sayan fits nicely into the triangle, and the three operate very comfortably with each other, but as a character in her own right, the sweetly gauche student is a paper-thin confection and Sayan doesn’t have the chance to do much other than impart doe-eyed vivacity.
The direction by Teoman - who won several prizes with his first film, 2008’s Summer Book - is economical and poised, and good location use is made of Ankara over the course of a year. But the film never quite finds its footing on the humour/drama tightrope, and ultimately comes across as downbeat kitchen-sink stuff with the odd comic insight. Still, at least Nihal never gets to tell her adoptive brothers, “You guys are the best”, though it’s a near thing.
Production companies Bulut Film, Unafilm, Circe Films
International sales: The Match Factory, www.the-match-factory.com
Producers: Yamaç Okur, Nadir Öperli
Cinematography: Birgit Gudjonsdottir
Editors: Çiçek Kahraman
Production designer: Nadide Argun
Main cast: Ilker Aksum, Fatih Al, Günes Sayin, Baki Davrak