Raw yet respectful and tenderly observed, this feature-film/documentary hybrid from writer-director Asli Özge plops a trio of real-life Istanbulites into a fictionalized account of their lives to engage the maddening flux of present-day Turkey and, by extension, modernity itself. All three protagonists—impoverished street peddler Fikret, unhappily married taxi driver Umut, and Murat, a lonely, low-level traffic cop—work near the Bosphorus Bridge, a looming and perpetually snarled symbol of the abundance promised but rarely delivered by the upward mobility each compulsively pursues. That makes Men on the Bridge sound stuffier than it is: For all of its big ideas, which Özge deploys with remarkable grace, it's the film's small moments that linger, including a pair of excruciating first dates for Murat (subbing for his real-life cop brother, who was unable to appear due to Turkish law) and a heartbreakingly near-comic attempt by Fikret to hold down a busboy job. The running argument between Umut and his grasping wife, Cemile, is downright troubling, genuine or not (the nonprofessional leads are so adept, it's hard to tell) and suggests a tragedy unspecific to any single culture. Like cities and bridges, people who graze but never grasp their private dreams abound; capturing their lives with vision and compassion is a feat.
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