Dir. Yesim Ustaoglu. Turkey/France/Germany/Belgium. 2008. 112 mins.
A moving act of selfless love between an old, constantly disappearing village woman with Alzheimer’s and her troubled but doting urban teen grandson is the climax of this visually ravishing, generational drama. He is the facilitator for her attempts to buy a bit of self-respect and sanity, while she is the catalyst for friction among her three middle-aged children. Ustaoglu first proved her mastery of filming natural landscapes and capturing urban chaos in Journey To The Sun, as well as her astute observations of the special bonds between those whom society deems marginal. Here, she concocts a near-perfect blend, sure to be a hit on the festival circuit and with the potential for arthouse success, at least in Europe.
When they get a message that their mother, Nusret (Chelton) is missing, her two middle-aged daughters and son, who are not particularly close, and whose sibling rivalry and oedipal issues have never been fully resolved, drive together from Istanbul to her village. It is nestled in a range of striking layer-cake mountains covered with trees of intense shades of green; the peacefulness is much at odds with the childrens’ lives in the metropolis. To the self-absorbed sisters, the plight of their mother is more of a nuisance than a responsibility. They have few qualms about institutionalising her.
Nesrin (Alabora) is the consummate bourgeoisie, a frigid control freak of a housewife who has alienated her unmotivated pothead son, Murat (Unsal), ironically the one relative to whom Grandma responds affectionately and for whom she provides a purpose. Guzin (Avkiran) is an unmarried professional, a journalist who places work, and her lover, above familial obligation. Their brother, Mehmet (Sonant), is an unreconstructed hippie, long-haired and bearded and unable to pay his bills. Ironically, he is the most well-adjusted of the children, though they look down at his lifestyle. It is no accident that Mehmet runs away from his mother but bonds with nephew Murat, another aficionado of weed.
Chelton, who is 90, is a revelation as the villager who just wants to end her days at home. Her Nusret is cantankerous and possesses a conveniently selective memory; her unpredictable performance helps carry the film. All of the other actors are excellent.
Ultimately, the daughters discover themselves; they grow from the experience of spending time with their mother and hashing out decades-old tensions between themselves. Nesrin works on her relationship with her husband and stops pestering Murat, while Guzin ends her futile affair. Ustaoglu depicts Mehmet and Murat as purer, less in need of personal transformation than the women.
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