Review: ‘Vizontele Tuuba’

Most of the key creatives behind all-time Turkish B.O. hit "Vizontele" (2001) return in new pic, mellower and more gentle than the original small-town character comedy but equally likeable. Writer-actor Yilmaz Erdogan takes solo directing reins this time round, making film a natural for fests that showcased the original crowdpleaser.

Most of the key creatives behind all-time Turkish B.O. hit “Vizontele” (2001) return in “Vizontele Tuuba.” New pic is mellower and more gentle than the original small-town character comedy but is equally likeable though set during a dark period in recent Turkish history. Writer-actor Yilmaz Erdogan takes solo directing reins this time round, with impressively smooth results, making the film a natural for fests that showcased the original crowdpleaser, as well as for some niche theatrical biz beyond Turkish communities. On release last year, pic drew a hunky 2.2 million admissions — down from the first film’s whammo 3 million-plus.

Framed as a voiceover reminiscence by Yilo (Senol Bali) of his “last childhood summer,” story opens in 1980 as the boy returns from school in Ankara to his village, Haziran, in southeast Turkey for his mid-year vacation. On the bus, he gets to know the Sernikli family — father Guner (Tarik Akan), mother Aysel (Idil Firat) and pretty teen daughter Tuba (Tuba Unsal, charming) — who’ve been sent to the remote burg by the government because of Guner’s political sympathies.

In one of many subtle grace notes, the vivacious, smiling Tuba is suddenly revealed as wheelchair-bound when the bus arrives in the village. Like the exact reason for Guner’s transfer, the precise cause of her disability is never explained.

Similarly, the political, social and economic chaos into which the country has fallen — as rightists (and fundamentalist Muslims) battled Soviet Bloc-supported leftists, leading to a military takeover in September 1980 — is only fleetingly referred to, or glimpsed on TV. Erdogan’s Ealing-like village is a microcosm of the time, though portrayed with a genial humanity that wrings smiles and laughter from tragic, offstage events.

In Haziran, scumbag Muslim entrepreneur Latif (Cezmi Baskin, encoring) is still running the local open-air cinema and at loggerheads with Yilo’s father, Mayor Nazmi (Altan Erkekli, ditto). Latif is still threatened by the arrival of TV — “vizontele” (vision-telly) as the awed yokels dub it — but this battle, which formed the basis of the original film, is only a sideshow in “Tuuba.”

Erdogan’s script juggles a large number of characters, and the main ones are not even narrator Yilo or Tuba. The heart and soul of the pic lies with Guner, who’s been sent to run a library that doesn’t even exist, and Emin (Erdogan himself), the town’s eccentric Mr. Fix-It who helps him and meanwhile develops a clown-like crush on Guner’s daughter.

After Guner and Emin have convinced the mayor to let them build a library, the next problem — beyond finding some books — is to get the locals to use it. In a lovely joke at the opening ceremony, they all enter in awe but, after admiring the carpentry, simply walk out again.

Emin has the idea of installing a “vizontele” as an attraction, but there are no spare sets among the handful in town. Undaunted, Emin digs up one buried with a superstitious local woman; but when the library draws paying customers away from the movie theater, Latif starts a rumor that the library is a leftist hotbed.

It’s not necessary to have seen the original film to enjoy this sequel, which works as a comedy of manners in its own right. But it does help to have some knowledge of the period’s political background to savor many of the jokes — from an early one about leftist actor-turned-director Yilmaz Guney to a whole sequence built on the similarity between two party acronyms.

However, the pic’s greatest accomplishment is its comic subtlety, portraying a period of social and political extremism through characters drawn with much irony but no anger. Like the first film, “Tuuba” has a sting in the tail, but the coda restores the opening genial atmosphere.

Vet Akan holds the screen with a quiet authority as Guner, a man whose past and sympathies are only ever hinted at, and he’s well complemented by Erdogan’s bluff sunniness as Emin. Ensemble work among the large cast is nigh faultless, reflecting Erdogan’s background in theater: There are enough stories here — several too briefly sketched — for another whole movie. Tech credits are top-drawer, with especially graceful camerawork by Ugur Icbak.

The spelling of Tuba with two “u”s in the film’s title refers to an early-on joke which returns, delightfully morphed, in the final scene.

Vizontele Tuuba

Turkey

Production

A BKM Film production. (International sales: BKM, Istanbul.) Produced by Negati Akpinar. Directed, written by Yilmaz Erdogan.

Crew

Camera (color), Ugur Icbak; editor, Engin Ozturk; music, Kardes Turkuler; music supervisor, Rahman Altin; art director, Yasar Kartoglu; costumes, Aycin Tar; sound (Dolby Digital), Alan O'Duffy; assistant director, Ali Taner Baltaci. Reviewed at Istanbul Film Festival (competing), April 23, 2004. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Yilmaz Erdogan, Demet Akbag, Altan Erkekli, Tarik Akan, Tuba Unsal, Idil Firat, Tolga Cevik, Iclal Aydin, Cezmi Baskin, Bican Gunalan, Salih Kalyou, Sever Kokkaya, Senol Bali, Denya Oganay, Zeynep Tokus.
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