'Singing Women' Review: Reha Erdem's Tiresome

Even die-hard fans of distinctive Turkish auteur Reha Erdem may find their patience stretched by this ponderous island-set tale.

Even die-hard fans of distinctive Turkish auteur Reha Erdem may find their patience stretched by “Singing Women,” an uneasy mix of whimsy, apocalypticism, social satire and murky parable set on an island being evacuated for an expected earthquake. This ponderous tale will no doubt attract some defenders, but seems unlikely to travel nearly as widely as the helmer’s prior projects, like “Times and Winds” and “Kosmos.”

Predictions of a major temblor have the authorities urging locals to take daily ferries to the mainland while they can, but not everyone on this wooded isle is obeying that command. Well-off curmudgeon Mesut (Kevork Malikyan) thinks this is just a plot to separate him from his precious possessions; his loyal, put-upon housekeeper, Esme (Binnur Kaya), wouldn’t dream of abandoning her post.

Meanwhile, horses are dying of some mysterious illness — and so, perhaps, is Mesut’s ne’er-do-well son Adem (Philip Arditti), who has torched his marriage and job, and now slinks home to guilt-trip Dad into some better-late-than-never fatherly love. But Mesut isn’t having it, convinced his offspring is simply trying to con him again, even once the island’s elderly doctor confirms a fatal diagnosis. Said medico takes an incongruous romantic interest in Meryam (Deniz Hasguler), a pretty waif whom Esme takes in after finding her cowering in the forest. Other figures include Adem’s flight-attendant wife, Esme’s bachelor brother and Maryem’s formerly abusive, newly apologetic ex.

There’s a low-key farcical edge to these romantic entanglements — all pathetically dysfunctional, particularly on the male side — while occasionally mystifying and miraculous events suggest that God is trying to teach a lesson to these foolish humans (again, particularly on the male side). But it’s all so cryptic and frequently listless that few viewers will be enchanted by experiencing Erdem in a (comparatively) lighter mood. Particularly irksome are the frequent scenes in which hammy Kaya and mostly glum Hasguler giggle and frolic like children on a sugar high, an intended expression of innocent joie de vivre that comes across as cloyingly fake.

Helmer’s usual d.p., Florent Herry, provides some beautiful outdoor shots, and the soundtrack of pre-existing compositions (several by Arvo Part, whom some promotional materials curiously suggest contributes an original score) provides more lyricism — occasionally more than the onscreen content deserves. Tech package is assured.

Film Review: 'Singing Women'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 11, 2013. Running time: 122 MIN. Original title: "Sarki soyleyen kadinar"

Production

(Turkey-France-Germany) An Atlantik Film production in association with Bredok Film and KMBO Films. (International sales: Atlantik, Istanbul.) Produced by Omar Atay. Executive producer, Claudine Avetyan. Co-producers, Mustafa Dok, Vladimir Kokh.

Crew

Directed, written, edited by Reha Erdem. Camera (color, HD), Florent Herry; production designer, Omar Atay; sound, Erdem, Herve Guyader.

With

Binnur Kaya, Philip Arditti, Kevork Malikyan, Deniz Hasguler, Vedat Erincin, Aylin Aslim.

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