Female ingenuity, with a grand act of mischief to drive the point home, sets Kutlug Ataman’s amusing and visually pleasing “The Lamb” gamboling along. Shot in a stunning area of northeastern Anatolia, this sardonic rural drama sees an impoverished mother taking extreme measures to ensure she saves face by throwing a modest feast to celebrate her son’s circumcision. “Lamb” further proves the helmer’s broadening range following the experimental “Journey to the Moon” and the Istanbul-set “2 Girls,” again decidedly coming down on the side of the womenfolk and sure to please fest auds and crix alike.
Ismail (Cahit Gok) needs a lamb, but shepherd Haydar (Necmettin Cobanoglu) won’t give him one. And why should he, when Ismail can’t pay? Little Mert (Mert Tastan) is to be circumcised with the other village boys, but Ismail’s out of work and his wife, Medine (Nesrin Cavadzade), doesn’t earn much gathering twigs to buy the necessary items. Mert’s precocious sis, Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk), isn’t helping matters with the way she talks back to her mother, cozying up to Dad when the more disciplinary Medine won’t let her have her way.
The wary village boys are snipped by an alcoholic circumciser (Taner Birsel), and Medine promises a feast to her neighbors so she can hold her head up high according to tradition. When her husband lands a job at a slaughterhouse, their confidence grows that a lamb will be purchased, and maybe new clothes for the kids, too. But then Ismail’s lured by “artist” (read: hooker) Safiye (Nursel Kose), and all the money’s gone. Perhaps appealing to Safiye’s sisterly instincts could save the situation.
As if Medine doesn’t have enough to deal with, poor Mert is being tormented by Vicdan, told that he’ll be slaughtered and eaten if they can’t buy a lamb: After all, why does he think they call him “my little lamb”? Ataman is a master of this sort of black humor, perfectly embodied in the delightfully horrid little girl, and he cleverly weaves such grim (and Grimm) jesting around a very serious picture of the hardships women face when negligent men abnegate their responsibilities to both family and community.
The message could have been stronger had Ismail not been such a stupid ass; his extreme gullibility beggars belief, which is a shame, as a more subtle portrayal would have given “The Lamb” an O. Henry quality (with more than a touch of Shirley Jackson thrown in), humorous yet critical of the uneven power balance between men and women, especially in traditional areas offering the fairer sex few options. Cavadzade beautifully embodies Medine’s hurt pride but doesn’t make her a victim, ultimately outwitting everyone and teaching them a lesson in how a community needs to help its own. Ataman gets terrific perfs out of tots Tastan and Canturk, the former achingly sweet and vulnerable, while the latter is a perfect mimic with a seemingly boundless joy in playacting.
Lensing by ace d.p. Feza Caldiran (“Autumn”) brings out every element of beauty in the hilly, well-watered landscape, guarded by snow-capped mountains. However, this is no tourism-board advert: Poverty isn’t prettified, and the characters are generally too concerned with survival to give much thought to nature’s magnificence.