Dir: Ozcan Alper. Turkey 2008. 100 mins.
An auspicious debut from Turkish helmer Ozcan Alper, Autumn features a low-key, uneventful story which moves along slowly, offering a sad elegy not just for a pointlessly-lost youth, but a whole set of ideals that have soured - with the plot growing darker and more desperate as the season shifts into winter.
This is more of an intense personal statement than Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, but the comparison begs to be made not just because of the title, but because nature here gives the film a powerful dramatic backdrop, and, in the absence of much dialogue, also pushes the narrative along. Festivals will love this, playing as it does into the Turkish arthouse emergence, and specialty play could follow, although admittedly Autumn does have considerable commercial limitations.
Shot in a wild, untamed mountainous region of the North of Turkey, close to the Black Sea and the Georgian border, Autumn uses the stunning primeval landscape, shot at different times of the day and night and in differing conditions, to underline a drama the script seems eager to keep smouldering out of eyesight.
Released from prison after 10 years for demonstrating against the government, with his lungs barely functioning after a series of hunger strikes, Yusuf (Onur Saylak) has nowhere to go but back to his home in a remote village in the mountains. There, he lives in a small wooden shack with his old mother, left alone after the death of his father and the departure of his sister. Falling into an almost catatonic state of apathy, coughing but never revealing the exact state of his health, Yusuf occasionally helps a small boy who occasionally comes around with his homework.
Yusuf’s only friend is Mikhail, the married village carpenter, who has never mustered enough courage to look for something better elsewhere. He soon discovers that all his rebellious university comrades have all settled down and forgotten their youthful idealism.
One day he meets Eka (Megi Koboladze), a woman who has come across the border from nearby Batum to work as a prostitute and send some money home to her mother and the child she left behind. A strange, mostly mute relationship is established between the two of them. He reminds her of heroes in the Russian novels she loves to read, and their sadly laconic encounters end one night in something that might be called an act of love or perhaps just a mutual act of mercy.
Beyond the personal tragedy of a man who has nothing to look forward to there is also, lurking in the shadows but pretty easy to see, the bitter deception of the socialist dream.
Viewers unprepared to constantly read between lines here are sure to be irked by Autumn’s slow, undemonstrative pace. Mighty natural scenery compensates for much of the inactivity, helping to establish the mood, and if occasional flashbacks into Yusuf’s city past do jar the pastoral atmosphere, they are sparingly and effectively used. The acting, as everything else, is kept on the minimalist side; implying rather than showing emotions.
Kuzey Film Productions
Media Luna Entertainment
+ 49 221/ 801498-0
F. Sercan Akar
Director of photography