"The Shadowless" reps an ambitious adaptation of a multilayered novel by Hasan Ali Toptas.
Unfolding in a timeless village rife with supernatural beliefs, mysterious disappearances and untimely deaths, “The Shadowless,” Turkish helmer Umit Unal’s mesmerizing fourth feature, reps an ambitious adaptation of a multilayered novel by Hasan Ali Toptas, dubbed “the Kafka of the East.” Pic’s more akin to an Anatolian “Twin Peaks” or an East Euro arthouse item than it is to most current Turkish cinema. This ambiguous, gorgeously crafted item did limited biz on narrow release in February, but seems destined for fests, plus longer life in local ancillary. Its ravishing formal qualities should appeal even to auds unfamiliar with the novel.
With 22 speaking roles (plus a silent cameo by author Toptas) and a nonlinear, episodic narrative creating the atmosphere of a waking dream, the plot is difficult to synopsize. The pic’s themes include the city vs. the provinces, common sense vs. superstition, the modern, centralized state vs. rural traditionalism, and the nature of creativity.
Story begins as an Istanbul barber (Taner Birsel) arrives in a remote, unnamed village. Since the previous barber, Jingle Nuri (Fuat Onan) went missing years before, the pompous mukhtar (Selcuk Yontem) encourages him to move into Nuri’s shuttered shop.
Meanwhile, the mukhtar has problems when Guvercin (Bigkem Karavus), the burg’s most beautiful girl, suddenly vanishes. The observant village guard (producer Hakan Karahan) suspects a gentle dreamer (Ertan Saban), whose mother (Arsen Gurzap) doesn’t take kindly to his being roughed up.
Elsewhere, the Imam beds Nuri’s abandoned wife (Zeynep Kumral) and the guard maintains a long-running affair with the married Hacer (Tales Farzan). The tale of Dazzling Fatma (Ozay Fecht) and Hamdi the Soldier (Yigit Kusbeygi) recounted by the village sage (Aydemir Akbas) adds to the air of sexual debauchery.
In a place where most inhabitants believe in the power of spells, perhaps the most unsettling episode involves teen Ramazan (Serkan Senalp), the unlucky pawn in a plot to demonstrate a neighbor’s supernatural abilities. The eerie mood is further fostered by the moans of the mukhtar’s unseen son, who’s kept locked in a cellar.
Helmer Unal (“Istanbul Tales”) considers his screenplay to rep one of many possible readings of the novel while remaining faithful to its spirit. His compelling adaptation compounds the sense of mystery and introduces an element of surprise by keeping a key revelation for the end. Fine ensemble cast (mostly stage thesps) seems entirely in tune with Unal’s intentions.
Stylistically, the story’s surreal atmosphere is balanced by the plausibility of the characters and locations. Although the time period is unspecified, realistic art direction and costumes suggest late ’60s or early ’70s in a working village. Gokhan Atilmis’ expressionist lensing and Candan Ercetin’s moody score lead a topnotch tech package.