A first feature by Cyprus-born Dervis Zaim, "Somersault in a Coffin" uses subtle black humor to portray the scum of the earth, a homeless bum who steals cars at night to keep from freezing to death. A standout perf by lead Ahmet Ugurlu touches the heartstrings without stooping to pathos, and, coupled with its modern look (perhaps born of necessity in this shoestring production), pic could be a discovery for fests and arthouses. It won top honors at the national Turkish fest in Ankara this year. Mahsun (Ugurlu) earns his food and drink money working on the fishing boat of Reis (Tuncel Kurtiz), but at night has to sleep outdoors or in other people's cars. One cold winter night a buddy freezes to death. Jail would be a solution for Mahsun, but the prisons won't take him in anymore: He's even stolen from the wardens.
The police beat him cruelly every time they catch him in a hot car, but between the cold and a streak of wildness, Mahsun just won’t quit. He owes the owner of a tea shop for 500 teas, and finally gets a job there cleaning the toilets, and a bed to sleep in. His attraction to a young heroin addict (Aysen Aydemir) is cruelly repaid, and through a misadventure with her he manages to lose even the little security he has.
This would be an unbearably bleak tale if helmer Zaim and hound dog-faced stage thesp Ugurlu didn’t turn the hapless, perhaps feeble-minded Mahsun into an icon of human resistance. Zaim is always reaching out for mixed emotions, as in one tragicomic scene where a hungry Mahsun climbs over the wall of a fort to steal and roast a peacock put there to delight the tourists. A few graphic moments of police brutality and a needle going into an arm sting audiences awake to the film’s bottom-line reality.
A fine cast all around and a sober shooting style keep the film from looking cheap, though it’s clear there wasn’t much spare footage lying around the editing room. Tech credits are good, though.