International film festivals should have another look at Zeki Demirkubuz' latest offering Destiny, which has been on the circuit since last year. Flawed it may be, but it has enough merit to deserve a niche of its own, certainly compared to some of the selections inflicted lately by a number of programmers on their unsuspecting audiences.
Cut down from a much longer version to its present length, and uneasily bearing the traces of these edits, this tale of an obsessive, unrequited love which draws all its characters to perdition, grows on audiences if they are willing to go along for the ride, becoming more oppressively disturbing as it reaches towards its inevitable conclusion.
The screen is monopolised by Ufuk Bayraktar, who collected an acting award at the recent Istanbul International Film Festival as a man who is willing to sacrifice everything for the woman he loves; and Vildar Atasever, as the object of his attentions.
But it is the insistence of Demirkubuz (Best Director at Istanbul), who focuses on them to the gradual eliminates of all else in the frame, which gives the film its strength.
Arthouses and film festivals should pay attention, although they should not confuse this feature with Demirkubuz's earlier Fate, despite the deceptively similar title.
A minimalist by nature, who systematically purges all but the essential details, Demirkubuz devises his film as a series of long, harrowing sequences, tracing a process which starts with innocent hopefulness, proceeds into strife and struggle and ends in a dejected acceptance of passions that will never be satisfied.
At first it seems as if there is nothing more here than the classic formula of the nice boy next-door falling for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Bekir (Bayraktar), the quiet, nerdy son of a carpet seller who sits in his father's shop and patiently waits for clients, meets Ugur (Atasever), the pretty neighbourhood flirt who comes in to tease him.
He comes from a prim, traditional middle-class family, where everyone expects him to marry a respectable girl and carry on the family business.
She comes from poverty row and lives with an invalid father, while her mother desperately clings to a less-than-faithful lover who provides for her and her family. Her younger brother serves tables in the coffee-house downstairs and is the butt of homosexual advances which drive him mad; Ugur herself is besotted with a homicidal maniac, who is barely seen but lurks throughout offscreen as a major plot engine.
This opening gambit initially includes a few additional characters, but these are gradually eliminated as the plot gradually develops into a sort of road movie. Ugur keeps moving across Turkey, following her lover, who commits murder in an early reel, is sentenced to life imprisonment and moved from one jail to another.
But Bekir, by now married and father of small child, is never out of her sight. With every new move, he becomes ever more despondent and forward in his advances, leaving home for longer periods, abandoning his wife and forgetting his kid. Losing the business he inherited, he eventually becomes a taxi driver, staying constantly on Ugur's tracks and harassing her to accept him, but all to no avail.
Ugur is as much in love as he is, but with another man, who will forever be beyond her reach, locked behind the walls of one prison or another.
To be close to her lover she is willing, just like Bekir, to undergo humiliation, becoming a nightclub dancer and a prostitute, giving up her pride and relinquishing whatever dignity she ever had.
The last scene, set in a cold, remote corner of northern Turkey (more than reminiscent of the finale in that other famous Turkish film of the past year, Climates), brings with it the recognition that they are both doomed to move forever on parallel destinies, always to be linked and never to meet.
As moving and powerful as Destiny is, mapping the gradual descent of its two protagonists into their personal hell, the abrupt cuts from one episode to another are somewhat problematic.
The elliptical editing in particular forces the audience to interpret its leaps of time in their own way, leaving empty gaps in the development of the characters which may confuse some. It takes time for the film to get to grips with its theme, and the earlier material is less focused than that later on.
Bayraktar is the more interesting of the two lead actors; luckily so, since his part undergoes greater changes in its comportment, while Atasever is more complacent in her prettiness and about par with the role she plays.
Demirkubuz, the kind of maverick who produces, writes, directs, shoots and edits his own films, offers taut direction, as tension hangs in the air even during apparently placid scenes. While his careful framing is very much in evidence, the quality of the image itself could be improved.
The pace, at 107 minutes, sees Destiny play as a deliberately slow work, not because it needs any additional cuts, but because this is the nature of Demirkubuz' narrative style. No cuts will change that.