As rockets light up the night sky, a young boy witnesses the joint traumas of waiting and loss in Baris Kaya and Soner Caner’s gently melancholic drama “Rauf.” Set in a Kurdish village in eastern Turkey (shooting was done near Kars), the pic keeps the current conflict as the key element that informs everything, while cleverly maintaining direct references as background. The focus on the boy’s hunt for pink fabric, to please the woman he admires, provides the right level of sweetness, and the handsomely framed visuals are notable; only a final misjudged burst of music mars the otherwise exquisitely conjured mood. Fests and showcases should take notice.
Although “Rauf” premiered in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section, programmers shouldn’t be guided by its placement: the film shows the Turkish-Kurdish conflict from a child’s perspective, but it’s hardly one to be classified as a kids’ movie. Nine-year-old Rauf (Alen Huseyin Gursoy) is easily distracted at the run-down village school, where Turkish nationalist propaganda is an integral part of daily lessons. He’d rather be a shepherd, but instead his father apprentices him to Ahmet Usta (Yavuz Gurbuz), a carpenter whose work now largely consists in making coffins for the local men returning in body bags from the Turkish-Kurdish civil war.
The conflict isn’t the sort of thing a child can fully comprehend, so Kaya and Caner allow Rauf to experience its ramifications in sensory, impressionistic ways, such as when he’s asked to get glasses in an adjacent room and sees walls lined with propped-up coffins. The child knows there’s a war going on because he hears the boom of ordnance at night, sees the absence of young men in town, and passes an elderly woman who stares silently out to the far horizon, waiting for her son to return from battle.
But he’s still a kid after all, rambunctiously playing with best friends Zeman (Muhammed Ubic) and Bedo (Veli Ubic), and falling in love with his master’s 20-year-old daughter, Zana (Seyda Sozuer). The practical-minded Zana has one request: When Rauf goes in to town, can he pick up some pink floral fabric? Thrilled to have a task, Rauf accepts the challenge with gusto, but there’s one problem: He’s never consciously seen the color pink, and descriptions of its qualities don’t help in his search for a tonality he can’t visualize.
It’s a marvelous conceit, in so many ways. Pink, the color of frivolity, is hard to come by in this strife-torn region, and though life and commerce go on, its absence becomes more and more apparent. For Rauf, the hunt for pink turns into a mission of love that will ultimately symbolize his passing through the threshold of innocence into a darker place of futility and grief. Kaya and Caner calibrate it all so beautifully that the intrusive music at the end is an unwarranted annoyance, interrupting the tender finale and jolting viewers out of their well-earned melancholic reverie.
The actors are a mix of newcomers and pros, nicely blended to achieve a sense of naturalism without sacrificing effectiveness, thanks to the performers’ skill as well as the subtle honesty of Caner’s script. The mood is immeasurably guided by Vedat Ozdemir’s evocative lensing, which gains inspiration from the expansive landscape of snow-covered plains bordered by dramatic peaks. It’s a landscape where time is meant to stand still, yet war intrudes and turns the untroubled passage of hours into an anxious waiting game. Natural light highlights expert framing through doors and windows, all symbols of transition.