An ornery, humorless imam learns some tough life-lessons in “Adam & the Devil,” a smoothly honed Anatolian heartwarmer — partly told through the eyes of a young kid — that’s much more substantial than usual Turkish village ensemblers. Well-constructed script and a seasoned cast expertly marshaled by helmer Baris Pirhasan, himself a veteran scriptwriter, make this a potential crowdpleaser on the festival circuit, as well as a candidate for some theatrical play in Euro and Asian territories.
Story spans the month of Ramadan in a tiny village in southeast Turkey. It’s the kind of place through which trains pass en route to bigger destinations, and their comings and goings carrying everything from U.S. troops to artillery or provisions, forms a continuous suggestion of a wider world beyond the tight-knit community. (Pic’s Turkish title literally means “Adam’s Trains.”)
Stepping off the train one night is Hasan (Cem Ozer), an imam who’s heard the village needs someone to lead the prayer ritual and teach children the Koran during Ramadan. A bit put out that Hasan has also brought along his wife Hacer (Nurgul Yesilcay) and young daughter Fatma (Zeynep Deniz Ozbay), the villagers reluctantly let the tall, imposing imam stay, out of deference to his religious status.
However, Hasan’s spartan ways and general aloofness — as well as his seemingly cold treatment of Hacer — gradually alienate the easygoing, gossipy villagers. Meanwhile, Fatma befriends a boy her age, the pesky Adam (Firat Can Aydin), whose parents have a laborer, Bekir (Atif Emir Benderlioglu), who seems to know Hacer from way back. One day, Bekir steals into Hasan’s house when he is out, and tries to make love to Hacer.
After stoking the pot and gradually introducing all the characters, at the midway point, the script starts to mix it up a little bit. Exasperated by the villagers’ growing hostility, Hasan tells a story at prayer time about how he took Hacer in, when pregnant, and married her “for the love of God.”
As the villagers become more sympathetic towards Hasan, several other secrets emerge about their backgrounds as well, and Hacer also has to cope with Bekir’s rekindled attentions. Script makes several unexpected turns toward an upbeat finale that’s something of a surprise.
Ozer’s commanding perf as the ascetic imam dominates the movie, with the thesp negotiating a difficult role that’s both alienating and sympathetic. Though he and Yesilcay (husband and wife in real life) work well together onscreen, Ozer catches the conflict between religious duty and simple humanity at the heart of Ismail Doruk’s script, and transmutes it into a slow-burning perf that becomes quite moving by the final reel.
Technically, the film is a slick package with the feel of a real pro at the wheel. Sunay Ozgur and Ender Akay’s symphonic-traditional score knits together the lighter and more emotional moments, and lensing of the rural locations by Peter Steuger (“101 Reykjavik”) is handsome but realistic.