A seemingly freewheeling structure, full of impressions without much action, seeks to capture the way teens process time in “The Blue Wave,” an intriguingly ambitious venture that’s more convincing on paper than onscreen. Novice helmers/scripters Zeynep Dadak and Merve Kayan know in theory what they want to achieve, and their ability to reproduce teenspeak, not so much the vocabulary but the spurts and fragmented sentences jammed with half-formed ideas, is spot-on. Yet this glimpse into the life of a high-school junior on the brink of womanhood has a narrative formlessness unlikely to appeal outside fests.
Multiple awards at the Antalya Film Festival attest to the pic’s novel approach, and it’s certainly refreshing to see a Turkish film that’s neither glacially paced nor about silent traumatized men in the provinces. Instead, “The Blue Wave,” set in a nondescript, medium-sized city among middle-class teen girls who’ll soon make major decisions about their future, has a universality that transcends national cinema stereotypes. A real test will be whether the film connects with the age group it represents.
It’s the end of summer vacation, and Deniz (Ayris Alptekin); her younger sis, Defne (Sude Aslantas); and their parents, Nevin (Derya Durmaz) and Yusuf (Cuneyt Yalaz), close up their holiday house and head home to Balikesir. As the school year starts, Deniz catches up with her girlfriends, talking about boredom, boys and what kind of university program they’d like to attend in the near future.
Deniz sort of likes senior Kaya (Baris Hacihan), but she’s got her sights fixed on guidance counselor Firat (Onur Saylak), convinced that he’s giving her extra attention because he, too, she claims, is smitten. The school year plays out in a series of vignettes, uneventful or tied to outside forces (a charity auction, a gas shortage), with every incident proof, in her mind, that she’s ready for the next step. For her mom, Deniz’s ever-shifting moods are distressingly impenetrable, but every parent of teenagers will recognize the pattern.
As their senior friends prepare to graduate, Deniz and her peers see their lives on the brink of new freedoms: They’ve begun driving, the sexual urge is nearing consummation point, and they’re chomping at the bit to begin “real life” in either Istanbul or Ankara. “Even the ambulance is going somewhere!” bemoans Deniz, anxious to put the sameness of her hometown behind her and grab hold of the future. What to do in that future remains uncertain, and no amount of talk from well-intentioned grownups about how decisions made now will affect the rest of their lives can make them think more clearly until they definitively make the leap from teen to adult.
Helmers Dadak and Kayan claim inspiration from Agnes Varda and Mike Leigh, the former more evident in style and affinity, though the natural dialogue and delivery attest to the kind of intense workshopping and improvisations that Leigh’s made his own. Deniz’s speech patterns in particular get exactly right the surges of teen talk, crammed with edge-of-adulthood ideas yet lacking the maturity to form those thoughts into cohesive sentences. A similar faltering understanding of the present affects how daily events are experienced, so a sequence in which Deniz searches for Defne in the midst of street celebrations has a surreal quality, reflecting the teen’s tentative ability to process her emotions and the world around her.
All this succeeds in reflecting that in-between passage to adulthood, even though “The Blue Wave” doesn’t completely hold together as a film. More is needed to link the scenes, which lack cohesion, and there’s a narrative flatness to it all that’s hard to overcome. Not that something sensational is required, just a tightened edit which could maintain the deliberate impressionistic fluidity while increasing the film’s impact.
The camerawork has a well-considered flexibility, indie in spirit and tied to character and situation, so stillness, as with the excellent final shot, is as reflective of emotional states as the more dynamic lensing. Sound design and music are similarly attuned to inner trajectories.