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Zephyr

A minimalist but beautifully lensed tale of an abandoned adolescent and the unexpected return of her peripatetic mother.

Shot in a stunning location with a mostly non-pro cast, Turkish helmer Belma Bas’ debut feature, “Zephyr,” is a minimalist but beautifully lensed tale of an adolescent and her troubled relationship with her peripatetic mother. Atmosphere ultimately trumps emotional involvement in this mesmerizing mood piece, which bears a stylistic resemblance to the work of Bas’ contemporaries such as Reha Erdem (“Times and Winds”) and Semih Kaplanoglu (“Honey”). Further fest play is indicated.

The action takes place in the picturesque foothills of the eastern Black Sea Mountains near Ordu, where 11-year-old Zephyr (Seyma Uzunlar) is staying with her kindly grandparents (Sevinc Bas, O. Rustu Bas, the helmer’s parents) in their summer holiday home. They lead a simple, traditional life, drinking fresh milk from the neighbor’s cow, foraging for mushrooms in the lush forest and hunting fresh strawberries for jam.

Amid the abundance of this idyllic world, death and absence lurk. Zephyr’s constant questioning about what happens to people when they die is mirrored by poetic visuals of dead animals; even the diegetic song lyrics heard deal with death.

Zephyr (whose name, per press notes, has mythological connotations of jealousy) misses her mother terribly and dreams of her nearly every night. When the mother turns up at last (played by a cast-against-type Vahide Gordum, the pic’s sole professional thesp), only to confess that she will soon depart again, the stage is set for a tragic finale.

On a dialogue level, Bas’ script deliberately withholds conventional context and explanation. Viewers never learn what the mother does, nor why she needs to leave again. Likewise, we don’t know how long Zephyr has been with her grandparents or where they normally live. The press notes provide more information than the film does.

Meanwhile, the exquisitely composed visuals and sophisticated sound design tell another story, one that foreshadows yet doesn’t satisfactorily explain the macabre turn of events in the final reel.

Expanding on the theme of her prizewinning short “Poyruz,” made with much of the same cast and crew, longtime Turkish film festival manager Bas displays greater confidence here, and her central thesps all appear more at ease. Tech credits are pristine.

Zephyr

Turkey

  • Production: A Filmik, FC Istanbul production with the support of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Cmylmz Fikirsanat, Hubert Bals Fund, Meetings on the Bridge Project Development Workshop. (International sales: Medit, Berlin.) Produced by Seyhan Kaya, Birol Akbaba. Directed, written by Belma Bas.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Mehmet Y. Zengin; editor, Berke Bas; art director, Canan Cayir; costume designer, Nurcan Yilmaz; sound (Dolby Digital), Ismail Karadas; associate producer, Cihan Asli Filiz. Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Sept. 21, 2010. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery; Tokyo Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: With: Seyma Uzunlar, Vahide Gordum, Sevinc Bas, O. Rustu Bas, Fatma Uzunlar.
  • Music By: