Dir.: Yesim Ustaglu; Cast: Funda Eryigit, Ecem Uzum, Mehmet Kurtulus, Okan Yalabik, Serkan Kesucin, Sema Poyraz
100min | Turkey/Poland/France 2016 | Drama
Writer/director Ysim Ustaglu is known for her soulful portraits of characters in challenging circumstances in contemporary Turkey. Her latest Clair Obscur is about two women who, at first sight, seem to have very little in common. But as the harrowing narrative unfolds we learn a lot about the fate of many women in Muslim society – regardless of their social status.
Shenaz (Eryigit) works as a psychiatrist in a hospital in small Turkish seaside town. One of her patients, a teenager called Elmas (Uzun), has been found one morning on the balcony of the flat she shared with her husband of two years, Koca (Kesucin) and her mother-in-law Kaynana (Poyraz). The older woman, a diabetic, is found dead in her bed, whilst her husband died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Elmas seems to have no memory of the night in question, but Shenaz works patiently with her to unblock her memory.
It emerges that Elmas had to marry her husband, who was in his forties, when she was only thirteen. Her father had her passport changed, and she was literally carted off straight from school. From the first day of their marriage, Koca literally rapes Elmas every night, causing her distress and rawness. Shenaz doesn’t fare much better, despite her more privileged background. Her jealous boyfriend is a great cook but a lousy and impotent lover who tries to control her every step and then threatens But when Shenaz finally finds someone else. her boyfriend threatens to kill Shenaz and himself.
Clair-Obscur is a sensitively told drama that suffers from some opaqueness and ambiguity; the relationship between Shenaz and the two men in her life only becomes clear at the very end. And her therapy sessions with Elmas show positive results in days, this would take months or even years in a real setting. Still, Eryigit and Uzun are brilliant, and DoP Michael Hammon’s images are very innovative: he is finding always new angles to show the very different flats, in which both women live, as prisons. The colours are always muted, and particularly dark near the sea. Clair Oscur is similar in tone to the work of Ustaglu’s fellow countryman Nuri Bilge Ceylan, presenting a unique female voice from Turkey. AS
SCREENING DURING TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 8 -18 SEPTEMBER 2016