If your exposure to Turkish cinema begins and ends with the zero-budget remakes of American movies that litter the shelves at Kim’s, this year’s New York Turkish Film Festival is a good opportunity to widen your scope. Focusing on recent films, the fest offers 12 features, nine shorts, and a much too brief two-film tribute to 50-year veteran director Atif Yilmaz.
The entries run the gamut from the abrasively postmodern to the soothingly old-fashioned. Among the latter are Baris Pirhasan’s Summer Love, a lush coming-of-age drama with feminist overtones, and Buket Alakus’s My Mother, in which a Turkish cleaning woman (the formidable Nursel Koese) in Hamburg bucks Muslim tradition to save her drug-addicted son. It’s unadulterated melodrama, but Alakus’s assured pacing and humane affinity for working-class women make for diverting uplift. Umit Unal’s politically tinged “9″ plunges its characters into a claustrophobic urban nightmare. Set in a pitch-black Istanbul police interrogation room, “9″ juxtaposes the interviews of six shifty neighbors who may or may not be involved in the murder of a local drifter. The film is masterfully shot (on DV, reportedly a first for Turkey) and edited, and Unal is adept at building queasy Hitchcockian tension.
Bleaker still is Zeki Demirkubuz’s Fate, a riff on Camus’s The Stranger that’s a festival standout. The film’s protagonist—a less dangerous but no less benumbed version of the novel’s Mersault—comes across a little like Travis Bickle drained of redemptive impulses, and Demirkubuz’s dispassionate, beautifully controlled style neatly mirrors the character’s near comical enervation.