Review: ‘Journey on a Clock Hand’

Adouble winner for best film and best direction in the Istanbul fest's national competition, "Journey on a Clock Hand" is a culmination of helmer Omer Kavur's recent work, recapping his pet themes and symbols. The existential mystery tale about a clock mender who arrives in a village where time has stopped has a jewel-like perfection, but leaves viewers a little cold. It should do mileage on the festival scene (next stop is Cannes' Un Certain Regard) and find scattered arthouse takers. Kerem (Mehmet Aslantug) is an ordinary fellow whose job is a variation on the traveling salesman: He wanders from town to town, looking for clocks to mend. When a stranger hands him a key to a mysterious clock tower, he heads off to repair it. Esra, the owner (Sahika Tekand), is a dark lady who spends her time weaving cloth on a loom and mourning her dead daughter. She seduces the enamored clockmaker, ignoring the brooding suspicions of her hunter-husband (Tuncel Kurtiz). Strange things start happening to Kerem: He witnesses a murder on a lake, but the corpse disappears. Repairing the clock (which stopped when the little girl died), Kerem discovers there was a previous mender who had an affair with Esra and mysteriously disappeared. Viewers breathe a sigh of relief when Esra's jealous husband puts Kerem on a train heading out of town, but the woman fatefully draws him back to his destiny.

The plot could be a Patricia Highsmith mystery, except for Kavur’s disinterest in conventional psychology and his preoccupation with symbols and archetypes. One of these is certainly the boarding house where Kerem finds lodging, inhabited by mute parrots, blind musicians and an occasional overdressed dwarf. Though the film works on a deeper level, it is guaranteed to drive batty any viewer looking for logical explanations. Kavur even refuses to pin down the tale’s ending, leaving it open-ended.

This is very much auteur territory, of interest to aficionados. The film’s main problem is that it is emotionally unabsorbing, as though the director had been making sketches for it so long (in pictures like “Motherland Hotel” and “The Secret Face”) that when he finally got it right, there was little heart left in it.

Apart from the quaintness of the sleepy little town and its eye-catching clock tower, there is little in pic that is specifically Turkish. Pacing is slow but steady, and the quite dark cinematography by Erdal Kahraman is precise to the point of minimalism. Also bare-boned is dialogue by scripters Kavur and Macit Koper. As the drifter-hero, Aslantug is pretty nondescript, but Tekand breaks through a static role to imbue Esra with a strong femme fatale personality. Veteran thesp Kurtiz comes across as unexpectedly human in the role of her rich older mate.

Journey on a Clock Hand

Turkish - Hungarian - Czech

Production

An Alfa Film (Turkey)/Objektiv Film Studio (Hungary)/Barrandov Biografia (Czech Rep.) production. Produced by Omer Kavur, Janos Rozsa, Anna Vasova. Executive producer, Sadik Deveci. Directed by Omer Kavur. Screenplay, Macit Koper, Kavur.

Crew

Camera (color), Erdal Kahraman; editor, Mevlut Kocak; music, Attila Ozdemiroglu; art direction, Selma Gurbuz; sound, Dolby. Reviewed at Istanbul Film Festival, April 10, 1997. (Also in Cannes Film Festival --- Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 119 MIN.

With

Kerem ..... Mehmet Aslantug Esra ..... Sahika Tekand Husband ..... Tuncel Kurtiz
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