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Eskişehir -- Diary of a High-rise Zombie, other films, and a real Master Class

Eskişehir. "Zeynep's Eight Days" ("Eight Day Daze" would be more to the point) is a film which won a best actress award at Ankara for the yoemanlike work of actress Fadik Atasoy in March. This debut feature by Cemal Şan is a long sterile meditation on the alienation of lonely livıng in sterile modern high rise apartments in a faceless big city in which the main actress who is in nearly every scene is called upon to act like a zombie or cyborg throughout. The film follows heroine Zeynep through her monotonous routine day after day for eight days during which her zombie-like agenda is altered drastically by a one night stand with a disgusting crumbum she meets at a nightclub, and the film goes on in this fashion for what seems like eight years until it begins to evoke giggles and heehaws, clearly unintended. While this might be regarded as a noble experiment in post-modern sociology it just falls flat on its face because of heavy-handed direction and conceptual vacuity, and is noteworthy only for the heroic presence of actress Atasoy who should have been given a medal for allowing herself to be subjected to such torture for such an endless ninety minutes. There are times in the film when her unabated onscreen suffering and a certain facial resemblance is vaguely reminiscent of Falconetti in Dreyer's "Trial of Joan of Arc", but that is the only similarity and it is stretching a point from the sublime to the ridıculous even to mention these two films in the same breath. Zeynep is one of the most boring films I have ever forced myself to sit through (only because İ like the actress personally) and the only reward was the intelligent Q and A session with the alert inquisitive students of Anadolu University which followed the screening. These kids asked better questions than much of the crass gossippy trivia which passes for professional cross-examination at Cannes or Berlin press conferences.

Zeynep's daze was followed up by a very engaging small Turkish fılm entitled "Tatil Kitabi" (Holiday Book) by another debut feature director, Seyfi Teoman, who is just 31 and learned his trade at the famous Polish film school in Lodz. The film takes opens and closes with the beginnİng and end of the summer school vacation in a provincial elementary school and follows the adventures and misadventures of a perhaps ten year old schoolboy, Ali, and his extended family in a small town somewhere near the south coast of Turkey during this vacation period. At the start the kids are given a kind of illustrated encyclopedia to study over the summer, whence the name of the film, but this is merely incidental. All kinds of little complications happen within this family over the course of the summer but, as in a Japanese Ozu film, what is important here is not the plot but the characters in the story and their relationships with one another. I was very pleased with this fılm and will most definitely be looking forward to more work from this young director. "Holiday Book" was awarded the FIPRESCI prize at the 2008 Istanbul IFF and was also named Best Film by the Turkish ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Day four of the fest started out with a Master Class by Dutch-Frisian documentary specialist Henk Penninga, and for once an event at a film festival dubbed "master class" actually turned out to be instructive and educational as well as fascinating fun. What Henk did was to take an old documentary apart, remove the sound, then show portions of the film as still segments while asking the students what they thought was really going on in the film and what they thought the intentions of the directors were at various points and in various shots. Later he ran the film with both sound and Turkish subtitles making new enlightening comments in what turned out to be a remarkable lesson on the art and techniques of documentary filmmaking. The film under Penningas brilliant analytic scrutiny was "Lonely Boy", a 27 minute gem of a documentary about youth idol and pop singer Paul Anke made in 1962 for the Canadıan Film Board. by two very prolific CFB filmmakers, Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor.
I vaguely remembered having seen this film when it first came out and the aura of Paul Anke at the time, but seeing it again all these years later under these special conditions, in Turkey of all places, was quite a revelation. "Lonely Boy" (the title of a Paul Anke hit song) was shot in black and white in cinema-verité style and is more than a documentary. İt is really a piece of celulloid art commenting poetically on the whole phenomenon of youth idol adulation, of the way in which the star is manipulated, and above all on the phenomenon of "Idol-mania" -- the socially acceptable collective public insanity of teenage females in the presence of the object of their worship -- before "Beatlemania" became a word in the language. Somebody ought to make a film of Henk Penninga using this film as an object lesson on the art of the documentary.

Henk's Masterful master class was followed by a screening of his own new documentary, "The Old Dike" (Alt Dyk) in which he takes us on a beautiful tour of "Holland's longest street", a stretch of road dotted with private dwellings populated by Frisian speaking natives that runs for nearly fıfteen kilometers atop Holland's oldest dike, originally built ın 1505 but renovated many times since. One unusual thing about this film is that all the dialogue is in Frisian, not Dutch. This may seem like a minor point but, in fact, the Frisian language spoken in this northern Friesland region of Holland is a unique Germanic language somewhere between Dutch and English that has been slowly dying out and is now an "endangered spieces" rarely heard on film. Apart from such considerations. "The Old Dike" is a painterly poetic piece of work which sets the mind at rest and takes you to a different place both geographically and spiritually. A word must be inserted here about the phenomenal Turkish-English interpreting skills of Erol Nezih Orhon who has been handling much of the interpreting chores where foreign guests are involved. Nezih is also one of the main organizers and programmers of this festival and learned his American English while pıcking up a couple of degrees in film at the University of Texas in Austin and the Universıty of Kentucky!

The final film of the day was a most off-beat and slightly off-the-wall Swiss-French feature entitled "1 Journée" (One Day) by Swıss-French-English director Jacob Berger, with the director in attendance to field audience questions. Although the action of this film is compressed into a single 24 hour period a lot more happens here than in Zeynep's eight days mentioned earlier, in fact, so much happens that there is nearly enough material for two films. The compressed synopsis is this: Serge, a stud wıth an amazing growth of five o'clock shadow works as a radio announcer ın Geneva, has a pretty blonde wife and an incredibly beautiful brunette mistress. On the way back home from a tryst with the mistress at fıve AM he hıts somebody on the darkened road but can't locate the victim. This preys on his mind and he finally turns himself in to the police. Meanwhıle pretty blonde wife, having detected his philandering, decides to abandon both Serge and their ten or eleven year old son.
The boy who is wise far beyond his years is passionately in love with a girl in his class at school, who happens to be the daughter of the incredibly beautiful mistress. This leads to incredible complications when the incredibly beautiful mistress (Mathilde) takes the incredibly precocious lad, Vlad, in, after his mother throws his bedding out of the window of the streamlined sterile glass high-rise, splits the scene and is about to run off to L.A. with a Japanese zombie... However, Mathilde after a borderline sexual encounter with young Vlad finally realizes that his wayward father isn't worth any more of her time and maybe she doesn't really want to wreck the kid's home anyway -- meanwhile the wife has second thoughts and comes back to the high-rise, where in a scene with echoes of Antonioni she reconnects with her estranged family and maybe they're all gonna live alienatedly ever after. I hope I find out in Part Two. This semi-surrealistic film is not quite as weird as it sounds and has some incredibly interesting things in it, and the incredibly beautiful mistress is actress Noémie Kocher who also collaborated on the scenario and is such a knockout that she alone is worth the price of admission. This thought provoking film has already travelled far and wıde -- from the super wide outdoor screen in Locarno to Pusan, South Korea, and is next headed for Moscow. I may have some more to say about it when the thoughts it has provoked settle a bit, but there is no question that Jacob Berger's "1 Journée" is one helluva trip.

Eskişehir by Alex Farba


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