From its first shot of an empty, ruined fort above town that’s gradually filled with hordes of school kids (and one in particular) wearing identical blue uniforms, “Summer Book” breathes a quiet assurance that’s very impressive for a first feature. Warm, involving portrait of a provincial family suddenly affected by the father’s incapacitation shows the same knack for delivering small truths from ordinary lives as another recent Turkish pic, “Times and Winds,” even though the two are very different in content and tone. Further fest dates should lead to discreet niche business and establish 30-year-old writer-director Seyfi Teoman as a name to watch.
The kid marked out at the start is 10-year-old Ali (Tayfun Gunay), whose family lives in the town of Silifke, close to Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast. As the summer vacation starts, Ali, who’s bullied at school, is fed up that he hasn’t got one of the homework books handed out to other pupils.
Ali’s elder brother, teen Veysel (Harun Ozuag), arrives back from military academy and tells his stern father, agricultural merchant Mustafa (Osman Inan), that he wants to quit the academy to study business management at university. Mustafa disapproves, and tells Veysel he’ll have to find the money to buy himself out of the academy himself.
Veysel’s uncle, butcher Hasan (Taner Birsal), supports the teen’s decision but also warns him that life in the big city is no bed of roses, especially after the gentle pace of life in Silifke. Meanwhile, the emotional rock of the family, mother Guler (Ayten Tokun), suspects that Mustafa has a mistress on the side.
These minor tensions are thrown into greater relief when Mustafa suddenly has a brain hemorrhage while out of town one day on a business trip. Hasan takes over the running of the family business, and also does some investigating of his own about what actually happened that day.
Pic ends as it began, establishing the rhythm of life in the medium-sized town as agricultural workers rise early to harvest fruit. Thereafter, Teoman’s observational direction, supported by d.p. Arnau Valls Colomer’s beautifully composed visuals, establishes a relaxed but never alienating tempo in which the main characters gradually work out their private problems.
Though there’s not one single character through whose eyes events unfold, young Ali is in many ways the emotional center of the movie as it is his school vacation that frames the passage of time. Whether shyly hawking around town some chewing gum his dad has given him to keep him occupied, or fretting over the book he never got in school, tyke thesp Gunay manages to be likable without being cute. The experienced Birsal is pic’s other emotional hook, as the sympathetic uncle. Other roles are fine but have less impact.
Though it’s a simple film on the surface, “Summer Book” is not quite as simple technically as it looks. In at least two sequences, discreet use of slo-mo adds a quality that’s like a grace-note to what is seen on screen. Most strikingly, too, for such a potentially lyrical story, the lack of a music score is never missed.