One of the best of a recent clutch of Turkish movies dealing openly with the military junta years, “International” is an entertaining ensembler centered on a band of Eastern Anatolian musicians that uses a gentle, almost Czech-like irony to point up the period’s lunacies. Stalwart cast of vets, headed by hatchet-faced Cezmi Baskin (“Vizontele,” “G.O.R.A.”), plus fast-rising actress Ozgu Namal (“Bliss,” “Police”), brings a contagious warmth to the goings-on that’s smoothly maneuvered by first-time directors Sirri Sureyya Onder and Muharrem Gulmez. Pic garnered a healthy 400,000 admissions locally last December.
Mock-dramatic opening sees the military descend at night on a truck, only to find it’s full of gevende (traditional street musicians). They’re all arrested as suspected leftists, including one, Tekin (Nazmi Kirik), who is traveling to join a local band run by violinist Abuzer (Baskin).
It’s 1982, some two years since the right-wing military coup. Abuzer and his raggedy fellow players are already having to change their repertoire under the dictates of the local commander, who also makes them dress in old French Legionnaires costumes instead of traditional Anatolian duds.
But with no other musicians around, the commander puts Abuzer and Tekin in charge of setting up a nightclub for the officers. The catch is that the musicians have to learn to play brass and wind instruments, and military anthems rather than traditional tunes. “And don’t play any separatist shit,” adds the commander.
Unfortunately, Abuzer’s impressionable daughter, Gulendam (Namal), is dating a committed young commie, Haydar (Umut Kurt). When Abuzer overhears her listening to the “Internationale,” he innocently uses the tune as inspiration for a march to welcome the National Security Council’s prez to the town. Predictable mayhem, tinged by genuine tragedy, ensues.
After priming the time bomb of the communist anthem, the script focuses in the second half more on Abuzer’s family and Gulendam’s relationship with her dad as she becomes an aware young woman, before climaxing with the arrival of the NSC prez. Film could do with some minimal trimming in this half, but the combo of music, songs and perfs, laced with a light irony, is winning, with Namal more than holding her own against the experienced Baskin. Cast of colorful supports is headed by the wonderful Meral Okay as a portly chanteuse.
Period look is sketched in an understated way, mainly through props, women’s clothing and younger hairstyles. Other credits are also smooth, notably Gokhan Atilmis’ attractive summery lensing, with Tarsus and Mersin repping the fictional town further east.
English title, sans a final “e,” is meant to refer to the locals’ ignorance of what the tune really is, but sounds awkward.