Dir/scr: Ugur Yucel. Turkey. 2013. 105mins
Shot at the farthest northeastern tip of Turkey, the best assets of Ugur Yucel new film are the spectacularly photogenic frozen landscapes surrounding the border city of Kars. Evidently chosen for its reputation as a reactionary nest without any Western influence (Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow takes place there as well) and for its proximity to the Georgian border, Kars seems like an ideal backdrop for Cold (Soguk), but the predominance of its panorama only underlines the lack of a substantial plot and of meaningful characters to sustain it all way through.
The pace is slow and deliberate all through and visually, the film is reminiscent at times of earlier Turkish art house fare.
Condemning an outdated society that consists of men who allow themselves every freedom in the world and of women doomed to be their abject servants and child-bearing machines - or else turn into prostitutes to divert them the self same men when they get tired of marital sex - is no doubt admirable, but just not particularly original. Where Yucel fails, is finding a new way to convey the old message to all the unreceptive ears that are still playing deaf.
Balabey (Cenk Medet Alibeyoglu), a railroad man, proud of the authority invested in him which entitles him to stop a train if he finds anything wrong with the tracks, comes back from a spell in the hospital (what’s wrong with him?) to his very pregnant wife. Honest but surly and taciturn, wearing one expression all through the film, he is the perfect example of the proud, respectable, law-abiding Turkish male. On the contrary, his younger brother, Enver (A. Rifat Sungar) just about to get married to the sister of Balabey’s wife, is a macho braggart, a thug and a brute, everything his sibling is not.
The tragedy starts at Enver’s wedding, when Balabey allows himself, against his better judgment, to be dragged by his pals for one night on the town, which means the obligatory visit to the only active brothel in the neighborhood. There, Balabey falls hard for Irina (Valeria Skorokhodova) one of the three Russian sisters working the sordid nightspot.
He’s never had sex away from home and the experience blows his mind. At the same time, Enver’s wedding night is a fiasco, his macho ego is seriously threatened, and he is just about ready to go berserk. As for the Russian girls, they hope that in a year or two they would have serviced enough Turkish men to go back home and cross their legs forever more.
Jumping from one subplot to another and trying to tie them all up together into a single knot, the story line gets more farfetched with every additional step it takes, clumsily leading to a bloody climax which deprives most protagonists of their lives. But since the script fails to make any of the characters involved particularly endearing, this can hardly provide the shock that must have been intended.
The pace is slow and deliberate all through and visually, the film is reminiscent at times of earlier Turkish art house fare such as Autumn (which also featured Russian prostitutes coming across the border but in a different context) or Mold (with a railroad man for a protagonist but for different purposes), Yucel’s film looks best when showing infinite spreads of snow covered spaces, beautifully framed as the sun lights them from various angles in the course of the day. Valeria Skorokhodova offers a lively, cheerful Irina, who should have been allowed more time to go deeper into her part, but the rest of the cast never oversteps the boundaries of the one-dimensional roles they were allotted.
Production company/sales: TMC Yapim Ltd., email@example.com
Producer: Erol Avci
Cinematography: A. Emre Tanyildiz
Editor: Ulas Cihan Simsek, Mark Marnikovic
Production designer: Gulay Dogan
Music: Murat Basaran, Ugur Yucel
Main cast: Cenk Medet Alibeyoglu, A. Rifat Sungar, Valeria Skorokhodova, Yulia Vanyukova, Yulia Erenler, Sebnem Bozoclu, Ezgi Mola