“Araf” means limbo in Turkish, which is where “Araf — Somewhere In Between” is likely to end up after making a few fest rounds. With her fifth feature, Yesim Ustaoglu (“Pandora’s Box”) offers alternately too much or too little, rubbing her characters and viewers in an unrelenting miserablism to less-than-salutary effect. Chronicling a sheltered young woman in the sticks whose affair with a truck driver leads to disastrous consequences, the helmer piles on the unpleasantness in a way that acts as a barrier to sympathy, mitigated only by some fine perfs.
Days and nights are long for Zehra (Neslihan Ataguul, strong), working double shifts at a roadside cafeteria. Co-worker Olgun (Baris Hacihan, natural) makes no bones about his attraction, but Zehra keeps the relationship on a teasingly friendly level. Whereas he’s got little ambition outside of appearing on a gameshow, she and colleague Derya (Nihal Yalcin) surf the Internet for job possibilities and a better dating pool.
At a wedding, Zehra meets trucker Mahur (Ozcan Deniz) and they start a surreptitious affair. For some reason the helmer-scripter keeps Mahur completely silent and characterless; the only words Zehra says to him are, “Take me with you.” Naturally he disappears, leaving a pregnant Zehra to disguise her disgrace from her conservative family. Meanwhile, things aren’t so great for Olgun either: His drunken father poisons local dogs and abuses Olgun’s mother, who keeps taking the humiliation.
For large chunks of the running time, it appears that “Araf” is going nowhere, but then the last quarter veers spectacularly off-course with an explicitness that serves no purpose; what could have been a mildly interesting look at dissatisfied yet ignorant youth in the provinces, uncertain how to control their urges, becomes a distasteful lesson in what not to show. It’s not a question of delicate sensibilities being offended, but rather a case of gratuitous degradation, capped off with a ludicrous finale saying less about these characters and more about the helmer’s imagining of working-class lives.
German d.p. Michael Hammon (“Stopped on Track”) provides some of the few pleasures, especially broad landscapes and closeups supported by Ataguul’s complexly rendered performance. Sound is used to strong effect.