French-born vet Tsilla Chelton gives a remarkable performance as an Alzheimer’s-afflicted country matriarch juggled among a trio of urban Istanbul siblings in the confident, satisfying drama “Pandora’s Box.” Helmer and co-scripter Yesim Ustaoglu brings a novelist’s feel for pace and character development to a story that, at close to two hours, could wear out its welcome but deftly avoids drag. Appealing fest fare could also score with arthouse distribs, and ancillary seems assured.
Chelton, who starred in the 1990 French comedy “Tatie Danielle,” plays Nusret, who one day wanders away from her western Black Sea mountain village for no apparent reason. This sends her bickering grandchildren in Istanbul — can-do ringleader Nesrin (Derya Alabora), single journo Guzin (Ovul Avkiran) and slacker Mehmet (Osman Sonant) — into a panic, and they set off by car to find her.
Once discovered in the woods and unharmed by the experience, Nusret becomes an issue: She stays for a time with Nesrin and her husband, Faruk (Tayfun Bademsoy), though they’ve got their hands full with rebellious teenage son Murat (Onur Unsal), who, unbeknownst to them, is crashing with Mehmet.
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When Guzin proves a less than reliable caregiver, it falls to Murat to escort the grandmother he barely knew he had back to her village, and their pairing proves a surprisingly good fit.
Pic’s unemphasized clash between old and new provides fascinating glimpses of a country in transition. Ninety-year-old Chelton slips much deadpan humor into her otherwise utterly respectful portrayal, with other thesps fine in support.
Tech package is accomplished, with a trio of production designers creating persuasively authentic living spaces that point up the gulf between city and country, traditional and modern.