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Our Grand Despair

Contains an elephant in the room so huge, it makes the emotional developments feel unconvincing.

With:
With: Ilker Aksum, Fatih Al, Gunes Sayin, Baki Davrak, Taner Birsel, Mehmet Ali Nuroglu, Beril Boz, Damla Kabakci, Durak Bulbul; Tamer Yurtbasi, Meliha Corek, Ilker Burma, Selim Gurata. (Turkish dialogue)

Seyfi Teoman’s follow-up to his award-winning “Summer Book” contains an elephant in the room so huge, it obscures every relationship in the film and makes the subsequent emotional developments feel unconvincing. Teoman is a fine filmmaker, but it will be difficult for savvy Western auds to view the male partnership at the core of “Our Grand Despair” without concluding that, while Platonic love certainly exists, the love that dare not speak its name here remains sublimated and gagged. Fests and a tiny Euro release are likely options.

An offscreen accident leaves college student Nihal (Gunes Sayin) an orphan. Her older brother, Fikret (Baki Davrak), lives in Berlin, so he asks his chums Ender (Ilker Aksum) and Cetin (Fatih Al) to take her in. Nihal is withdrawn and grief-stricken, and it takes some time for her to open herself up to become part of her two new uncles’ painstakingly “normal” yet non-traditional household.

Ender and Cetin were best friends in school. At some point Cetin moved from Ankara to Istanbul, but on his return they decided to share an apartment and have lived together ever since. “When Cetin was in Istanbul I searched for him in every man and woman I saw,” recalls Ender in a touching discussion with Nihal. “Even in the green plums.”

The two men cook together and shop together; at the supermarket, Cetin pushes the trolley while Ender gently holds the metal side, offering an image duplicated by every couple, in every supermarket, the world over. When they sit on the sofa, they take adjoining cushions rather than allow a space between them, and yet somehow auds are supposed to believe it when they reveal they’ve each fallen for Nihal.

The two men are even coded as particular types: Cetin works in an office (what exactly does he do?), while Ender, an intellectual who proffers Salinger and Steinbeck to Nihal, stays at home (and just what does he do there?). Throughout the pic, they mention former girlfriends, yet never is any of that chatter convincing. It’s good to play with expectations and turn cliches on their head, especially when it comes to the very real fluidity behind stereotyped roles, but every shot of these two friends together works against auds buying the cross-generational desire revealed midway through.

Of course they remain the good uncles, and despite a couple of awkward near-kisses, there’s no tension to suggest anything untoward could possibly happen between these men and Nihal. There’s a touching and brave movie somewhere here about a stable family (who just happen to be two men) helping a young woman to deal with her grief by offering her a loving home. Teoman almost makes that film, but it would have to be in touch with the emotions it seems to be so carefully setting up and then sidestepping.

There are lovely moments: the threesome walking through the streets of Ankara, picnicking by a lake, and most of all, the apartment itself, which Teoman skillfully turns into a warm, comforting space, the locus of the action. Sayin can’t do much with her half-formed role, even when she’s feebly given a boyfriend and a crisis, but Aksum and Al have an ease with each other completely in synch with the subtext (whether acknowledged or not). Dialogue, however, feels controlled and too-regularly paced.

Birgit Gudjonsdottir’s elegant lensing has a quiet unobtrusiveness, understated without being minimalist. Lighting uses and enhances nature’s rays, complementing the apartment’s psychological warmth and offering fresh perspectives depending on times of day and seasons.

Our Grand Despair

Turkey-Germany-Netherlands

Production: A Bulut Film presentation of a Bulut Film, Unafilm, Circe Films production. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Yamac Okur, Nadir Operli. Co-producers, Titus Kreyenberg, Stienette Bosklopper. Directed by Seyfi Teoman. Screenplay, Baris Bicakci, Teoman, adapted from the novel by Bicakci.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Birgit Gudjonsdottir; editor, Cicek Kahraman; production designer, Nadide Argun; costume designer, Tuba Atac; sound (Dolby), Ismail Karadas, Cenker Kokten, Peter Warnier; line producer, Tolga Afsin Kaya; casting, Ezgi Baltas. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 16, 2011. Running time: 101 MIN.

With: With: Ilker Aksum, Fatih Al, Gunes Sayin, Baki Davrak, Taner Birsel, Mehmet Ali Nuroglu, Beril Boz, Damla Kabakci, Durak Bulbul; Tamer Yurtbasi, Meliha Corek, Ilker Burma, Selim Gurata. (Turkish dialogue)

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