A sparingly told portrait of an unhappy marriage set in upscale Istanbul, "Lifelong" makes good on the promise shown by writer-helmer Asli Ozge in her 2009 debut, "Men on the Bridge."

A sparingly told portrait of an unhappy marriage set in upscale Istanbul, “Lifelong” makes good on the promise shown by writer-helmer Asli Ozge in her 2009 debut, “Men on the Bridge.” As hushed as a city becalmed by a sudden snowstorm, the pic seems to track fairly quotidian events while the real drama churns under the surface, just visible via anguished expressions, the odd word and the art it elicits from its femme protagonist. Although the result is a touch ponderous at times, outstanding lead perfs, especially from Defne Halman, and luminous lensing should spell a long festival life.

First encountered in the middle of what seems to be fairly routine married-couple sex, middle-aged Ela (Halman, a dancer-turned-actor) and Can (Hakan Cimenser, a legit helmer and academic) work as an artist and architect, respectively. They live in a house he designed, the kind of exquisitely austere modernist home one sees in the pages of Wallpaper or Elle Decor, with lots of white walls, tasteful art and huge plate-glass windows through which much of the action is observed in long shot, as if by a semi-curious voyeur. Indeed, the house, with its twisting metal stairway and private rooms, is almost a character in the story.

Apparently already suspicious something is up, Ela eavesdrops on a phone call Can makes one night, and although auds are never told what she hears, it’s presumably evidence of infidelity. Although they continue to go about their daily lives — working, having friends over for dinner, visiting with their college-student daughter (Gizem Arkan), who lives in Ankara with her b.f. (Onur Dikmen) — they start sleeping separately. Eventually, they begin looking together for a new apartment for Ela that will be “her studio,” although it’s clear this is the first tentative step toward separation.

Since hardly an angry word is spoken between these two hyper-civilized, haute-bourgeois people, auds are given access to their feelings via long-held, claustrophobic closeups, particularly on Halman’s gauntly beautiful, expressive features as she struggles to beam, chatter and make small talk while all the while her eyes look terrified, haunted and on the verge of tears.

Meanwhile, the ominous art she struggles to create, despite gallery politics and financing issues, speaks volumes about the way she’s feeling, as she arranges to have a giant boulder poised threateningly over a gallery’s glass entrance, or fills a room with dense mist bathed in colored light, completely obscuring those inside. Per press notes, the installations were all designed by contempo Turkish artists, and one of the pic’s strong suits is the authentic feel of the milieu depicted, from the way people talk, to their expensive yet understated clothes, to the way they casually smoke a joint during a work break.

The script could be a bit more tightly constructed, and when the point of view switches from Ela to Cam for a brief spell, it feels like an unnecessary distraction from the story. Nevertheless, “Lifelong” reps a stylish and absorbing piece of work that could find an audience offshore among the same sort of mature, well-heeled, educated people it depicts.

Lifelong

Turkey-Germany-Netherlands

Production

A Bulut Film production, in co-production with Sodemedya Interactive, Razor Film, Augustus Films, Kaliber Film, the Post Republic, with the support of Eurimages, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Turkish Republic -- Deputy of Cinema, Medienboard-Berlin Brandenburg, the Netherlands Film Fund, in collaboration with ZDF/Arte. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Produced by Nadir Operli. Co-producers, Enis Koestepen, Roman Paul, Gerhard Meixner, Bero Beyer, Willem Baptist, Mete Gumurhan, Michael Reuter, Rebekka Garrido. Directed, written by Asli Ozge.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Emre Erkmen; editor, Natali Barrey, Ozge; production designer, Yesim Bakirkure; costume designer, Nahide Buyukkaymakci; sound (Dolby Digital), Marcel de Hoogd; supervising sound editor, Daniel Iribarren; sound designers, Iribarren, Mark Glynne, Dominik Schleier; re-recording mixers, Lars Ginzel, Glynne; casting, Selim Unel, Nimet Atasoy Unel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 11, 2013. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Defne Halman, Hakan Cimenser, Gizem Arkan, Onur Dikmen. (Turkish dialogue)

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