A bleak zero-budgeter from Turkish helmer Inan Temelkuran, “Bornova Bornova” traces parallel downward spirals: the moral decline of a generation without hope and the dissolution of a once-cohesive neighborhood. In Bornova, a district of the city of Izmir, legitimate jobs are few and far between, and crime doesn’t pay much. The area even lacks local color — literally so, as all vibrancy has been leached from the camera’s palette. “Bornova” boasts strong, slacker-indie virtues, including improvisatory group thesping and at least two breakout perfs, but the relentlessness of its deadbeat atmosphere and overdone chromatic experimentation makes distrib chances abroad highly unlikely.
Naive young Hakan (Oner Erkan), recently returned from military service, has been promised a cab-driving gig that is slow to materialize. He hangs out with old buddy Salih (Kadir Cermik), a sinister character who demands hand-kissing fealty from kids while selling them drugs in scenes of startling immediacy. Salih hails from a respected, once-affluent family and regales his pint-sized customers with nostalgic tales of his childhood.
Straight-arrow, not-too-bright Hakan, whose dreams of athletic glory were shattered by an injury on the soccer field, soaks up Salih’s cynicism without ever ascribing to it. Hakan is supported in his idealism by Murat (Erkan Bektas), a long-haired intellectual whose own professional aspirations have long since evaporated, leaving only self-delusion. Murat smokes weed and writes softcore porn for magazines, often relying on longtime pal Salih for his drugs and salacious stories. One story in particular has a profound effect on Hakan, as it concerns a girl, Ozlem (an impressive Damla Sonmez), whom he’s crazy about but has been too shy to approach.
Though Hakan can easily resist his criminal friend’s blandishments, he proves defenseless against the ambitions of Ozlem, a high school Lady Macbeth who flashes from dreamy vulnerability to calculating manipulation in a heartbeat. Finding herself pregnant and abandoned by her rich-kid boyfriend, she sees in lovestruck Hakan an unexpected way out — one that soon affects all the players in this backyard drama.
Helmer-scribe Temelkuran has crafted characters who carry around ghosts of their lost potential, lending them an odd multidimensionality. His thesps appear effectively enervated so that any break from inertia registers as unnatural and shocking in its violence. But given the production’s low-budget look and reliance on long talkathons with a paucity of movement, the radical bleeding out of the image (perhaps meant to evoke what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil) flattens the pic’s impact, reflecting more on the impoverishment of the film than of the characters’ milieu. Admittedly, though, the pallid tones allow director Temelkuran to theatrically close the film on a colorful, sardonic note.