A nasty electrician plots to murder his wife in “Two-Way Switch,” the third film from brothers Yagmur and Durul Taylan (“School,” “Little Apocalypse”) and their most stylish to date. Inspired in look and theme by the Coen brothers’ noirish takes on small-town life, pic uses camerawork, editing and music to humorous ends while making cutting statements about the secrets and lies festering within family life. Unfortunately, the female lead is so pathetic that the whole pic tips into caricature, but major prizes at Istanbul and critical support might turn “Switch” into a fest fave.
The Taylans cleverly capture the measure of their characters with just a few short, spry scenes, conveying atmosphere with a minimum of dialogue. Celal (Engin Gunaydin, also scripting) treats his devoted wife, Sevilay (Binnur Kaya), and son, Mesut (Nedim Suri), with unrestrained contempt. He’s pilfering the cash Sevilay has been secretly storing up in the cellar, spending it on prostitutes and porn videos, which Mesut has been surreptitiously borrowing.
Clueless Sevilay is thrilled when her husband suddenly assumes a sunny disposition and insists they all go on a picnic with friends, the inclement weather notwithstanding. When everyone’s jammed into the van on the drive back, the door suddenly slides open and Sevilay falls out and rolls off a cliff — auds know it’s been planned, but the scene still shocks.
Celal thinks all’s clear for him to go off with prostitute Sibel (Gunes Berberoglu), but she’s not interested, and then, to everyone’s surprise, Sevilay reappears, very bruised but alive. The experience hasn’t wised her up any, although she does wonder about her missing money; now, her husband has to decide whether to fess up to the theft or continue with the deception.
The material has parallels with the work of the Coen brothers and late Hitchcock, encompassing small-town rituals (the pic was shot in Erbaa, Anatolia), family tension, murderous thoughts and characters whose delusions propel the action. Generally warmer than the Coens, the Taylans enjoy a playful sympathy even with their antihero, but they go overboard when turning Sevilay into such a cartoonishly masochistic creature. While it’s clear the helmers are deliberately straddling the border between thriller and farce, they too frequently slip over into the wrong side.
The fault certainly doesn’t lie with the game cast, which includes Serra Yilmaz, sporting an uncharacteristic wig and lighting up the screen in every scene; Yilmaz is one of the very few contempo character actors whose high-wattage personality rivals those of the beloved character players from Hollywood’s golden age. Stylistically, “Switch” has little in common with the often attenuated feel of recent Turkish arthouse cinema, though d.p. Gokhan Tiryaki notably worked with Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Reha Erdem. Spare but not minimalist lensing, conveying a genuine sense of delight, helps smooth over some rough spots, as does the whimsical counterpoint of Attila Ozdemiroglu’s score.