A Dostoevsky-like atmosphere of doom and gloom hangs heavy over a truck driver pushed to commit a terrible crime and then shaken by remorse in Tayfun Pirselimoglu's sober but occasionally intriguing second feature, "Riza."

A Dostoevsky-like atmosphere of doom and gloom hangs heavy over a truck driver pushed to commit a terrible crime and then shaken by remorse in Tayfun Pirselimoglu’s sober but occasionally intriguing second feature, “Riza.” Much like the director’s first effort, “Innowhereland,” in its painstakingly composed images and somewhat labored artiness, “Riza” is, like the earlier pic, rescued by an electrifying female perf, this time from Nurcan Eren. Festival interest could drive a small wedge into connoisseurs’ nicheland for this quality offering.

When gray-bearded Riza’s (Riza Akin) truck breaks down in Istanbul, he is forced to leave it in a garage while he searches for money to repair it. The fact that the truck is mortgaged and will be lost if he stops working only adds to his plight.

In sheer desperation, he turns to an ex-girlfriend, Aysel (Eren), a single woman who owns a small laundry. When she refuses him a loan, he steals a dead man’s money and takes shelter in a miserable back-street dive, full of out-of-work men on their way down. Among the gaunt faces oppressed by secret worries are an older Afghan man with his veiled daughter-in-law, who are waiting to emigrate illegally to Italy. These and other characters float through the film, surrounded by an aura of mystery.

Pirselimoglu, a novelist as well as a painter, communicates great empathy for his characters even in their lowest moments. The horrendous crime Riza commits, for example, springs from a carefully described social context, leaving auds in limbo about how to judge him.

Spare dialogue leaves a great deal to the expressiveness of the actors. Akin’s stony gray face, not appealing at first glance, is capable of surprising subtleties as the film progresses. Eren injects a full range of mixed emotions into the female role. She has clearly been hurt by this man in the past and is anything but happy to see him back, but the very vehemence of her reaction suggests there’s still a spark among the emotional ashes.

Slow, regular pace gives viewers plenty of time to slip into d.p. Colin Mounier’s desaturated, painterly colors and expressive framing.

Riza

Turkey

Production

A Zuzi Film production. (International sales: Zuzi Film, Istanbul.) Produced by Tayfun Pirselimoglu, Ilknur Akanlar. Directed, written by Tayfun Pirselimoglu.

Crew

Camera (color), Colin Mounier; editor, Cicek Kahraman; music, Cengiz Onural; production designer, Natali Yeres; sound (Dolby Digital), Ismail Karadas. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 14, 2007. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Riza Akin, Nurcan Eren, Hayati Pirselimoglu, Muhammed Cangoren, Melissa Ahmedi, Fatih Sevildi, Melih Duzenli, Gurbuz Demir, Emin Ba, Turgay Tanulku.

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