The tense, yet down to earth Turkish film Küf (which screens Wednesday night at 9:00pm at Double Double Land in Toronto as part of MDFF’s ongoing independent cinema screening series) is like three different films in one. It’s a sparse examination of one man trying to overcome his own demons, it’s a blackmail thriller, and it ends as a pointed socio-political drama. What makes first time feature filmmaker Ali Aydin’s work here stand apart is how it can balance being austere and person while being epic and wide reaching at the same time. It’s a work of great emotion, and yet great subtlety, as well.
Widower Basri (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’s Ercan Kesal) should be retired, but he spends his days in a thankless job as a rural railway security guard. He walks the tracks all day searching from any problems with the tracks. All day he fixates on two things: the news reports coming from his transistor radio and the memory of the son that went missing eighteen years prior during a student demonstration. His quiet and simple existence is rocked when he sees Cemil (Tansu Biçer), a lecherous drunk of a railway technician, raping a sex worker on railway property. Their altercation over this incident leads to a standoff of wills: the quiet Basri can’t say anything about the incident because Cemil is one of the few people who know Basri is prone to epileptic seizures, something that given the nature of his job can be construed as a fireable offence.
While Aydin’s film will likely be compared to the recent work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, it has more in common with the work of Turkish master Yilmaz Güney. It’s not a film about living a dreary, thankless, and futile existence in a country that has been politically and socially unstable since the late 1950s, but instead takes a look at the country as a whole through the eyes of the working class. It’s certainly a contemplative film – the kind of film where the entirety of Basri’s backstory is told over the course of a single ten minute conversation full of pauses and stammers with a local police magistrate who has grown weary of this old man’s story. The reason for the weariness is that Basri’s story is all too common, and the device of having this broken man find his only connection to the outside world through his transistor radio is a smart one. It allows Aydin’s almost blistering social critique to squeak in almost unnoticed. It’s a device that can explain to an outsider the importance of this man’s struggles while not being too on the nose for anyone who has lived through it.
Similarly, Aydin has made a film that somehow illogically climaxed in the middle, yet somehow it still works and makes the film’s final third – when Basri’s reconciliation with his son’s past becomes far too real and bracing – a deeply emotional moment. Each section of the film has a different tone, as well. At the opening Aydin certainly seems to be making a film in the style of Ceylan with a man who moves slowly through life because he can’t seem to let go. The second act becomes almost Hitchcockian, with Kesal’s well honed man of few words put in direct opposition to Biçer’s douchy motormouth. The final act comes down somewhere between the works of Kiarostami and a less melodramatically minded Farhadi.
It’s not a showy film, but it’s an emotional one. It’s filmed on appropriately grainy film stock that not only makes it look like the film could have been shot in the 1970s, but also serves to underline how little has changed in the lives of the characters and the history of their country. It’s a movie where everything will eventually come full circle for the main character, but the circle is actually an endless loop. It’s not an entirely hopeful film, but a very good one.