This third feature by Turkish-Cypriot director Dervis Zaim isn’t as accessible as its predecessors, the fest fave “Somersault in a Coffin” (1997) and the award winning “Elephants and Grass” (2000). A diffuse mixture of morbid black comedy and an examination of the stressful lives of characters exiled from their homeland, “Mud” never quite gets the tone right, resulting in an intriguing but, ultimately, unsatisfying experience. Still, based on the director’s previous reputation, some festivals down the track may program this frustrating item.
Early scenes are promising, as Zaim establishes a small Turkish-Cypriot community close to the border that divides Greek Cyprus from Turkish Cyprus. Ali (Mustafa Ugurlu) is a soldier suffering from a strange disease; he can’t speak, he has a severe itch, and he faints all the time. His sister, Aisha (Yelda Reynaud), is a gynecologist involved in an IVF program and engaged to marry Halil (Bulent Emin Yarar), an opportunistic type. The fourth character is Temel (Taner Birsel), a restaurant owner haunted by the past and by the Greeks he killed during the brief, bitter war on the island.
Film is designed to work on a symbolic level — Ali’s enforced silence, Aisha’s work as a scientist in the field of procreation — but the actors aren’t always convincing in roles that appear to be more concepts than living, breathing characters.
Much is made of ancient Greek statues still found in the water off the island (the statue of Cybele, the goddess of fertility, assumes a major role), but, as the title suggests, the dominant element is the black mud that supposedly contains healing properties and which is mainly located on the wrong side of the dividing line between Greeks and Turks on the island.
Students of recent Cypriot history will probably find the complex allusions and references in the film easy enough to decipher, but the uninitiated may well be baffled. Zaim’s inability to bring clarity to these tragic undercurrents ultimately undermines his film.