Tuesday, August 9, 2016

MIFF Session #10: ALBUM

A prologue takes us through the insemination procedure at cattle farm and then the assisted birth of a calf. By the time we get to the humans after the titles we have an idea of what we need to know. Two middle aged couples of Istanbul, one very pregnant, take photos at local sights. At one point the pregnant woman confesses that the pillow she has under her dress is tickling her. Meet Cuneyt (he) and Bahar (she) a middle class infertile couple who need the installation of a family to take their place in society. The pictures they are taking will form an album that will testify to their efforts.

They travel to country orphanages to shop for a child, preferably a boy. They inspect a girl but, on examination, find her too unlike them in looks and thus too hard to pass off as their own. A second institution has the right one and so they are off. More photographic evidence and soon they are married with a child for all the world.

When a close encounter with crime puts them at the local police station they find the long arms of the information age reaching far too close for comfort.

This angry satire leans much closer to the violent minded tracts of Jonathon Swift than a Baby Mama or even a Happiness. Cuneyt and Baha are repellent. If we didn't already know that we would get it from the dinner scene, the one with the friends' visit and the one where the baby crawls to his delighted new mother's laughter which is actually being caused by the crass midday show she is watching. A scene where the baby, lodged between her adoptive parents in bed as they snore with their faces buried in pillows is not played for laughs, either. By the time we get to the final tableau and its immediate consequence we understand we weren't in this for the mirth.

There are laughs, quite a few but if stark absurdism leaves you cold you won't find them. The office workers sleeping at their desks, the contrasting unruly westernised classroom and later tightly disciplined one which is more traditional, the long and digressive interviews with authority figures are set up as social realism but are always too brittle to get there.

This tension between cinematic reality and convincing dreamscape is heavily reminiscent of Roy Andersson's films (e.g. Songs from the Second Floor). Mehmet Can Mertoglu's debut feature, however, drives further into the grimness of the path he started on. While Andersson will deftly retain hold of each thread for a stunning conclusion both humourous and terrifying. Mertoglu uses fewer threads and tightens them beyond movement. We are not afforded a relieving setpiece but a couple of photo poses (not stills) before an offscreen horror leads us to the credits.

I'm going to let this unsmiling comedy rest in my memory and see if it picks up a few points of forgiveness in time. For the moment I recall great power offered with an uncertain hand. I'll think on....

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