A crowd-pleasing comedy more akin to such export-designated lagers as "The Full Monty" and "The Dish" than Turkey's usual cinematic home-brews, "Vizontele" is an infectious delight that proves you can indeed bottle charm.

A crowd-pleasing comedy more akin to such export-designated lagers as “The Full Monty” and “The Dish” than Turkey’s usual cinematic home-brews, “Vizontele” is an infectious delight that proves you can indeed bottle charm. Hardly a covert pitch to offshore auds, pic nonetheless sports quite enough goodwill, energy and production gloss to make the rural-set, yahoo-driven ensembler formula appealing once again. Of course, current political climate won’t abet immediate breakout for a Middle Eastern laffer that revolves largely around religious conservatism vs. Western cultural infiltration. However, large overseas emigre communities constitute a built-in demo, with strong eventual potential for wider crossover traffic in most arthouse enclaves.

Scenario by Yilmaz Erdogan (who co-helmed with O. Faruk Sorak) focuses on a southeastern village that’s got one toe gingerly dipped in the 1974 present — while all other extremities remain well-rooted in timeless tradition. Trendiest happenings here — beyond local boutique owner Fikri’s (Cem Yilmaz) eyesore disco-dandy threads — are the nightly open-air screenings of battered old French and Turkish genre pics.

That cinema is operated by sleaze-bag Latif (Cezmi Baskin). He’s sworn enemy to upright Mayor Nazmi (Altan Erkekli), who encourages his level-headed mother (Demet Akbag), superstitious wife (Sebnem Sonmez), accident-prone son (Sinan Kilic) and latter’s rambunctious juvenile pals to take in shows for free from their overlooking rooftop — just to spite Latif & Co.

The mayor is thrilled no end when reports suggest a new entertainment wonder may soon render moviegoing obsolete. But no one quite has a handle on what “vision-tele” means, “animated radio” being their best guess. Given the problems with radio reception, it doesn’t occur that TV reception will prove even dicier. Still, Nazmi vows to make his newly purchased “picture box” work, if only to vex the cine-mogul. But, Latif starts a wild rumor that gets schoolteachers, clerics and housewives alike believing the boob tube is Satan’s own “insult to Islam.”

Quest for successful televiewing eventually forces a group expedition up Mt. Artos, where their toil reaps comically bitter reward. (The set duly transmits picture — but horror of horrors, it’s a newscast from Turkey’s then border-warring foe Iran.) But, “Vizontele” isn’t over yet: Last reel pulls a merry surprise, then a shocking, downbeat one that abruptly — yet effectively — recasts all prior action as a too-brief moment’s respite from endless Middle Eastern political turmoil. It’s a risky tonal leap, but one the co-creators pull off beautifully.

Auspicious feature debut for cinematographer Sorak and playwright/novelist/thesp Erdogan keeps a huge roster of fondly caricatured village types in colorful orbit, with sharp perfs all around. Design package heightens mood of pop-savvy, culture-clashed humor, from color-rich lensing, art direction and costume contribs to a giddy soundtrack of trad-to-Westernized-kitsch Turkish musical chestnuts. Tech aspects are tops.

Vizontele

Turkey

Production

A BKM Film production. Produced by Necati Akpinar. Directed by Yilmaz Erdogan, O. Faruk Sorak. Screenplay, Erdogan.

Crew

Camera (color), Sorak; editor, Mustafa Preseva; original music, Kardes Turkuler; art director, Yasar Kartoglu; costume designer, Aycin Tar; sound, Alan O'Duffy; assistant director, Ali Taner Baltaci; production manager, Serpil Guler. Reviewed at Montreal Film Festival (World Cinema), Aug. 27, 2001. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Yilmaz Erdogan, Demet Akbag, Altan Erkekli, Cem Yilmaz, Cezmi Baskin, Bican Gunalan, Sebnem Sonmez, Salih Kalyonsener Kokkaya, Erdal Tosun, Iclal Aydin, Mesut Cakarli, Zeynep Tokus, Tolga Cevik, Serhat Ozcan, Safak Sezer, Tuncer Salman, Zerrin Sumer, Yasemin Alkaya, Erkan Can, Koksal Engur, Betul Arim, Sinan Bengier, Can Kahraman, Caner Alkaya, Selahattin Tasdogen, Meral Cetinkaya.
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