Though the story is simple, the emotions generated in “Mold” are anything but superficial. Ali Aydin’s debut adheres to new Turkish cinema stylizations, with long takes frequently lensed with a fixed camera, minimal dialogue and a regional setting — even the single-word title is becoming standard for the country’s arthouse output. Yet “Mold” is neither derivative nor slow in its depiction of a lonely father petitioning authorities for information on the son who disappeared 18 years earlier. Unpretentious and satisfyingly complete, the pic is a natural for fests and streaming sites.
Basri (Ercan Kesal) is a solitary railroad track inspector (a job straight out of classic Russian fiction), trudging along the tracks day in, day out, to clear any blockages. At home, he’s visited by police inspector Murat (Muhammet Uzuner, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) who brings him in for questioning. The ensuing scene at headquarters, shot in a long stationary take, is riveting, as the steely, unmoving Murat grills Basri over the stream of letters he has written asking for information about his son, taken into custody nearly two decades earlier. The older man’s averted eyes and bowed head rarely meet the cop’s intense gaze, yet his submissive body language can’t disguise his doleful tenacity.
Aydin makes no bones of Dostoyevsky’s influence in a key side plot that speaks of guilt, responsibility and tensions inherent in human interaction. Cemil (Tansu Bicer) works on railway maintenance; Basri catches him raping a woman in the locker room, and clubs him. The injured man lets the incident slide as long as Basri doesn’t report him, but subsequent drunken taunts are too much for the older man, and he does nothing to prevent an industrial accident that kills Cemil. Basri’s subsequent guilt becomes yet another difficult burden to bear.
Though not essential to the main story of a father’s dogged insistence on proof of his son’s death, this Raskolnikov-inspired interlude opens up Basri’s character to being more than a grieving father searching for truth from cold authorities. Making him an epileptic ties him even closer to Dostoyevsky, and while some may feel Aydin is grafting too much of the great Russian writer’s themes onto his subject, the sincerity and clarity of the storytelling offer many rewards, right up to the heartbreaking finale.
The helmer couldn’t have found a better vessel than Kesal, known for his collaborations as both actor and co-scripter with Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Kesal’s Basri is the kind of nondescript man no one notices — whether glimpsed on the street or in a cafe, few would spend time wondering about his backstory. Making this poignant figure a source of sympathy and depth with a minimum of information is a significant achievement for both thesp and director.
Though Murat Tuncel’s camera is generally immobile, he doesn’t make a fetish of static visuals, allowing the lensing a suitably restrained freedom. The Anatolian landscape, shot in and around the town of Belemedik, offers snapshots of stunning grandeur that deliberately isolate the already solitary characters.