As intimate portraits of 83-year-old anal-retentive Turkish men go, "10 to 11" is surprisingly charming.

As intimate portraits of 83-year-old anal-retentive Turkish men go, “10 to 11″ is surprisingly charming. An unassuming quasi-documentary homage to both the helmer’s grandfather and the Istanbul around which he purposefully wanders, the pic is both meandering and over-stretched. But our frail hero’s defiance in the face of authority and the script’s immense compassion toward his eccentricities ensure the human factor wins out. Coming in the wake of her well-received docu debut, “Oyun,” Pelin Esmer’s sophomore effort is likely to attract scattered fest interest.

Curmudgeonly, hatchet-faced Mithat (nonpro Mithat Esmer, playing himself) ambles from shop to stall carrying his briefcase in search of additions to his collection of just about everything, lamenting as he goes that you can’t find anything unfashionable in Istanbul nowadays.

His apartment is stuffed from floor to roof with, among other things, newspapers dating back to 1950. Mithat’s collection is the most important thing in his life, as well as the reason his wife left him. But the modern world is slowly encroaching. Mithat is developing a dust allergy; earthquakes are threatening the building’s stability, and the neighbors, led by Ruhi (Savas Akova), want it demolished.

Building superintendent Ali (Nejat Isler) has come to the capital in search of work, leaving his wife and child in their village. Now at war with Ruhi and afraid to leave the premises, Mithat commandeers Ali into running errands for him, and slowly it dawns on Ali that the collection might be worth a few liras.

There is something noble about Mithat’s refusal to let the modern sweep him away: His collection represents Istanbul itself. Pic is loaded with such metaphors, but the script doesn’t force them, preferring to remain focused on our impassive hero, directed by his granddaughter to ensure that no empty sentimentalism creeps in.

The mood swings between melancholy and gently surreal comedy; the dialogue, like most of the pic, has been adapted to Mithat’s own leisurely rhythms. But despite the script’s inability to fashion any real drama, the pace remains compelling rather than dull. As the ever-upbeat Ali, Isler does decent work, even if he and his story never rise above being mere foils.

Lensing makes the most of its outdoor scenes, conveying a strong sense of the bustle in Istanbul’s port area. Mithat’s low-lit, labyrinthine apartment, a reconstruction of Esmer’s real one, is an extra character. A couple of stunning nightscapes are thrown in for good measure, while the sounds of the city drifting in through Mithat’s open window function as the score.

10 to 11

Turkey-France-Germany

Production

A Sinefilm (Turkey)/Stromboli Films (France)/Bredok Film (Germany) production. (International sales: Sinefilm, Istanbul.) Produced by Pelin Esmer, Nida Karabol Akdemiz, Tolga Esmer, Mustafa Dok, Juliette Sol. Directed, written by Pelin Esmer.

Crew

Camera (color), Ozgur Eken; editor, Avhan Ergursel, Esmer, Cem Yildirim; sound (Dolby Digital), Michael Kaczmarek. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 24, 2009. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Nejat Isler, Mithat Esmer, Tayanc Ayaydin, Lacin Ceylan, Savas Akova.
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