One of the world’s great cities comes vibrantly alive through its music and musical denizens in “Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul.” Docu by Turkish-German helmer Fatih Akin (2004 Berlinale winner “Head-On”) is a belated love letter to a metropolis which also reflects his own mixed-cultural make-up — poised between East and West, with influences from both Europe and Asia. With Akin’s name attached, this looks to have sizable fest legs prior to pubcaster and cable play, with minor theatrical chances in certain territories.
Alexander Hacke, longtime member of German avant-garde band Einstuerzende Neubauten, unlocks some of Istanbul’s cultural secrets. Hacke recorded a few songs for Akin’s partly Istanbul-set “Head-On,” and the city has fascinated him ever since.
Checking into the venerable Grand Hotel de Londres in Istanbul’s flavorsome Beyoglu district, Hacke first hooks up with Turkish “neo-psychedelic” band Baba Zula and stands in for the band’s absent bassist. He then starts a musical journey through Turkish rap, experimental music, street music, Kurdish laments and even a couple of modern Whirling Dervishes.
Intercut with these encounters and jamming sessions is footage painting the city’s bustling street life, both by day and by night, that avoids the normal tourist cliches. There’s also some early discussion of Istanbul’s unique location. But more importantly, as one observer points out, the city is also a living rebuttal of the old chestnut, “East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet” — the “clash of civilizations” geopolitical theory currently revived by the White House.
Less convincing are Turkish rappers’ claims that they’re doing their own thing and not simply imitating black Americans. But once the docu has got such cultural matters off its chest, the music does most of the talking, culminating in two emotionally powerful sessions by legends of popular Turkish music: former matinee idol-cum-composer Orhan Gencebay and legendary songstress Sezen Aksu.
Gencebay, whose movie career is briefly shown in a series of clips from corny actioners and melodramas, gives an electric performance of one of his songs, playing his 38-year-old saz (a long-necked, full-bellied lute). But it’s Aksu’s perf of one of her ’80s hits, the melancholy “Memory of Istanbul,” that hits the spot — intercut with B&W pics of period Istanbul that perfectly parallel the song’s emotional content.
Tech package is smart throughout, and the musical mix (by Hacke himself) clear and sharp — heard to most powerful effect in a barnstorming solo by Kurdish chanteuse Aynar.