Though little more than an hour long, “The Photograph” is as eloquent a snapshot of the ironies of civil conflict as one could hope to find. The longest work to date by young director Kazim Oz, who in the past five years has largely done short docus, pic already has played extensively during the past year on the B-festival circuit, but deserves a higher platform. Programming outside festivals reps a problem, though specialized events and webs should respond.
Oz was assistant director on Yesim Ustaoglu’s “Journey to the Sun” (1999), and there are similarities in “Sun” and the odyssey eastwards by “Photograph’s” central protagonists, as well as in both pics’ quietly purposeful feel. However, where Ustaoglu’s pic was a fully developed dramatic feature centered on Turkish-Kurdish friendship, Oz’s is more like a haiku.
Serene opening sees a long-distance luxury coach pull into Istanbul’s harbor area, where a young man, who’s been talking desultorily to a woman (Mizgin Kapazan), climbs on board. He sits next to a younger, rather tightly-wound guy and the two gradually start a conversation. Only some way into the movie does the viewer learn the former is called Ali (Nazmi Kirik) and the latter Faruk (Feyyaz Duman).
Both are traveling to eastern Turkey and both claim to be going to see relatives, Ali in Diyarbakir, Faruk in Tunceli. Ali is peaceful and relaxed, and says he’s a law student; Faruk is tense, and plays with his musical cigarette lighter as the coach travels through the night and next day, past increasing roadblocks for ID checks by the army.
In fact, one of the two is a Turkish army conscript drafted to the east of the country; the other is a Kurdish terrorist traveling incognito. They part on the best of terms, ignorant of each other’s reality, but their destinies are soon to cross on the side of a snowy mountain.
Oz calls his film a study in “the possibility of friendship,” and without pushing its central conceit too far, he makes a brief but lucid statement on the theme, helped by fine, understated perfs by the two leads. Suffused with a half-real, half-dreamlike tone, and catching the hypnotic quality of long-distance journeys, film is capped by a tour-de-force, single take that links Faruk and Ali together again.
Here, and in other elaborate shots (such as conscripts being registered), Oz looks like a talent to watch. Pic’s one misjudgment is a pretentious ending that undercuts the foregoing simplicity.
Shot in June 2000 on Super-16 and for almost no money, pic was self-distributed in over eight Turkish cities last year, clocking some 25,000 admissions.
Tech credits in the 35mm blowup are fine, with a notable score by Mustafa Biber that adds atmosphere to Ercan Ozkan’s clean lensing. Credits, notably, are all in Kurdish.