Dir. Zeki Demirkubuz. Turkey. 2001. 115mins.
The first of three Tales Of Darkness features by Zeki Demirkubuz, Turkey's most promising new film-maker, this free adaptation of Albert Camus' novel The Stranger is bound to attract plenty of festival activity. The best indication of the film's nature and eventual future comes with its brief passage and untimely disappearance from Turkish screens; and its enthusiastic reception at last month's Istanbul Film Festival, where it was awarded the International Film Critics Prize. Little wonder Cannes included it in this year's Un Certain Regard section as a double bill alongside Confession, its sequel. However, its sombre mood and minimalist approach will brand it a tough challenge for general audiences.
Never a cheerful film-maker, Demirkubuz - whose previous feature Third Page enjoyed international exposure and drew attention to his very personal style - uses Fate to further explore his obsession with guilt and alienation. Here he finds ideal inspiration in Camus' dark existentialist tale, already brought to the screen in 1967 by Luchino Visconti. Updated and moved from its original North African location to present-day Turkey, the plot follows Musa (Orcin), a book-keeper who holds an insignificant position in an office. In the first sequence he loses his elderly mother, who dies in her sleep; later he marries a colleague he does not love and accepts the fact that she is pursuing an earlier affair with their boss. He also helps a neighbour commit a crime simply because he is asked to; is falsely accused of murder and refuses to defend himself from the charge; is released when the real culprit confesses all before killing himself; and then commits a crime that will justify the punishment he seems to be craving. Throughout all of this Musa remains detached and aloof, claiming there is no point in taking any stand in life, one way or another.
The liberties taken by the narrative with the original text may annoy all those who are familiar with the source material. Particularly disturbing is the absence of the relevant references to the Algerian political climate of the 1940s, when Camus originally wrote his novel. But Demirkubuz, a full-time auteur who produces, writes and edits his films, prefers to look for his own agenda, focusing on such aspects as moral confusion masquerading as cold indifference, estrangement as a weapon against emotional commitment and the instinctive distrust in those who have by those who have not. Most of all, a sense of guilt looms over, and seems to determine, every single action by the protagonist. Consistent almost to the very end, Demirkubuz offers no easy solutions, instead leaving it up to the audience to interpret what they have seen.
Demirkubuz trusts that less is more in every aspect of his film-making, using a sober, restrained visual style and employing no music save two brief passages by Mahler. At the same time he offers precise, unadorned images, often allowing action to take place off screen, and tones down his actors' performances to the barest essentials, a rare feat in Mediterranean cinema. While Fate's very ending seems somewhat contrived and more in tune with the director's message than it is with his story, the overall impression is that of a fresh new talent who is on the verge of becoming a favourite of the arthouse cinema circuit. With Demirkubuz's high profile at this year's Cannes, he is already on his way.
Prod co: Mavi Filmcilik
Int'l sales: Sera Film Service (Film Distribution handling at Cannes)
Prod, ed: Demirkubuz
Scr: Demirkubuz based on Albert Camus' The Stranger
Cinematography: Ali Utku
Cast: Serdar Orcin, Zeynep Tokus, Engin Gunadyn, Demir Karahan