Dir. Baris Pirhasan. Turk, 2007. 103mins.
Cute, corny, folksy, but also heart-warming and crowd pleasing, Baris Pirhasan's feature Adam And The Devil deserves to do well, not only as an entertaining festival vignette but also as a pleasant nostalgic breath of home for Turkish audiences abroad.
The story of a strict imam landing in a small village with wife and daughter, whose intransigent religious beliefs mellow in contact with the cheerfully idyllic atmosphere of the countryside, it is less innocently poetic than similar fare such as Boats Out Of Watermelon Rinds and less ambitious than Times And Winds. Nevertheless, it still plays to the same audiences which, ultimately, it has a better chance of reaching than its antecedents.
With bright, sharp images, a high-spirited cast devoid of the hammy excesses that usually plague the genre and a pair of adorable kids who keep the plot moving forward, this is one of the most satisfactory products to have emerged from Turkey during the last 12 months.
Hassan (Cem Ozer), a severe, unbending Islamic cleric, gets off the train in a God-forsaken little Anatolian village, with his much younger and uncommonly pretty wife Hacer (Nurgul Yesilcay) and a little daughter.
Though in need of an imam to lead the prayers and teach their children the Koran, the village did not expect a family man, whose upkeep may be too much for their meagre means. Still, awed by the man's devout presence, they take him in on a temporary basis.
His sombre demeanour, unflinching insistence on the letter of the religious law, dry aloofness and ostentatious lack of affection for his family are soon interpreted by the simple, friendly locals as hostile, righteous arrogance.
However, when they find out that Hassan agreed to marry Hacer when she was deserted by her lover - despite being with child - they change their attitude, regarding him less as an unbearably stern moralist than as an angel of mercy.
The script then provides another twist and brings Hacer's runaway lover back into the picture, complicating issues even more and giving the imam and the audience an actual dilemma. What would be considered a happy ending - his wife's return to her first love and the father of her daughter' Or her staying with the man who has been her benefactor and to whom she owes an immense debt of gratitude, but for who she holds little affection'
If Adam And The Devil works, despite what initially seems a less than original script, then it is thanks to Baris Pirhasan's spirited treatment. The little train station, the pivotal centre of social life in the village, teems with action and jovial characters, including womenfolk cheerily meddling in each other's affairs.
All of them unabashedly stick their noses into the mysterious relationship between the iman and his cowering wife, who seems to be terrified by her own shadow, let alone anything that might intrude on her from the outside.
The plot is more or less engineered by a merry little prankster, Adem (Firat Can Adin), whose talent to absorb information and then spread it in his own personal version, is responsible for many of the bright moments. Befriending the imam's little girl, he is the first to draw the newcomers, as reluctant as the may be, into the life of the community.
Ozer and Yesilcay, the husband and wife team (in real life), are perfectly typecast as the imam and his spouse, while Adin has all the endearing qualities of a clever, mischievous kid, and the ending even implies that he may be the one who will grow up to tell the story as shown here.
Peter Steuger's crisp camerawork and Aylin Zoi Tinel's lively cutting are distinct assets. In a world flooded by threatening images of an angry, fanatic Islam on the warpath, it is a relief to see for a change a lighter, more humanistic aspect.
Aylin Zoi Tinel
Atif Emir Benderlioglu