Overwrought and overlong, but still chockfull of arresting imagery, Turkish helmer Reha Erdem’s magical-realist fable “Kosmos” feels like one huge trailer for a feature only hardcore arthouse auds will want to see all the way through. Elliptical storytelling method makes it hard to navigate this tale of a thief with miraculous healing powers whose arrival disturbs the peace of a snowbound Turkish bordertown. More likable than Erdem’s last, the critically divisive “My Only Sunshine,” but not as magisterial as his previous effort, “Times and Winds,” “Kosmos” at least showcases the auteur’s distinctive personal style, an acquired taste for many.
First met stumbling in a panic through the snow, making weird twittering noises, holy fool Kosmos (bug-eyed Sermet Yesil, also in Erdem’s “A Run for Money”) hears cries of distress by a river, where a young boy has fallen in and seemingly drowned. Kosmos fishes him out and, just by hugging him, brings the kid back to life, earning the deep gratitude of the child’s beautiful teenage sister, Neptun (Turku Turan), and father, Yahya (Hakan Altuntas).
When Kosmos arrives in the unnamed city (the pic was actually filmed in and around Kars, in Turkey’s far northeast on the border with Armenia) where Neptun and Yahya live, he’s warmly welcomed by the locals, despite his intense manner and tendency to talk like a crazed prophet. But although he prays in a mosque occasionally, Kosmos isn’t exactly a good Muslim, given his tendency to rob stores and pursue “adulterous” pleasures of the flesh.
Upfront about the fact that he’s come looking for love, he begins an affair with a newly arrived schoolteacher (Sabahat Doganyilmaz), while also engaging in a bizarre courting ritual with Neptun, involving exchanges of yelping, birdlike cries (eventually quite irritating), playful chases around town and literal flights through the air — but, as far as can be seen, no actual sex.
When Kosmos proves utterly useless at work offered in exchange for room and board (all he ever eats is sugar, anyway), the townspeople start to tire of him. But when word gets out of his healing powers, he’s the flavor of the month again — until things start to go wrong.
A bevy of subplots pad out running time, some of which work and some of which don’t. There’s an intriguing political dimension in the townspeople’s debate about whether the country should open the nearby border with a hated neighboring nation (presumably Armenia) in order to stimulate trade.
Various other threads lie around like broken shards in the pic’s rough-hewn narrative mosaic, which even at a distance looks pretty abstract. Too many questions remain willfully unanswered: What’s the woman with the crutch suffering from? What’s the significance of the satellite that crashlands in a field, somehow recalling the whale in Bela Tarr’s “Werckmeister Harmonies”? And what’s with all the geese?
Nevertheless, there’s a sense throughout that Erdem, if no one else, knows what’s he’s doing. Helmer’s editing feels simultaneously precise and impenetrable, guided less by narrative logic than by soundtrack choices from a selection of avant-garde classical composers that often powerfully enhance the mood. Unfortunately, too many montages prove monotonous.
Alternately sparse and lush sound design, always a strong suit in Erdem’s work, adds pungency, as does the swooping, agile lensing by regular Erdem collaborator Florent Herry, who displays a unique gift for nocturnal landscapes that sometimes suddenly jolt (presumably just by shaking the camera) to produce striking smeared-light effect. It looks cool, but who knows what it means.