Following such rich and strange films as “My Only Sunshine” and “Kosmos,” Reha Erdem delivers a visually stunning, vividly emotional narrative of a teenage girl trekking through nature as she escapes life as a Kurdish freedom fighter. Set within sumptuous mountain landscapes, the largely wordless “Jin” presents nature’s fragile yet wondrous beauty as a mournful spectator of mankind’s drive toward destruction. Anti-war in the broadest sense, the pic affectingly incorporates animal witnesses whose presence, both remarkable and fitting, adds a universal element likely to captivate a diverse audience. Though too long and occasionally repetitive, “Jin” should travel Euro arthouses.
Via gorgeous visuals subtly enhanced by Hildur Gudnadottir’s discreet score, Erdem presents a symphony of nature in major and minor keys. From the opening, with slow floating clouds giving way to a dreamy reverie of greenery, the helmer conjures a peaceable land suddenly interrupted by gunfire and explosions that cause the clouds to increase their pace. Jin (Deniz Hasguler), whose name means “woman” in Kurdish, leaves her fighter compatriots without a word and sets off into the mountains, her rifle and uniform still marking her as a rebel.
The film doesn’t spell out why she leaves, though Jin tells a few people she’s going to see her ill grandmother. It’s possible, though it’s equally conceivable that, at 17, she can no longer stomach the fight. Ever alert to the dangers from Turkish soldiers in the area, she’s surprised several times by the forest’s inhabitants, such as an enormous, noble stag and a falcon whose screeching protests when she steals two eggs leads her to put one back. This deferential rapport with the animals is interrupted when soldiers approach while she’s up a tree; the falcon, as if acknowledging her respectful behavior, ceases its cries and the men pass.
Continuing on her journey, she steals some clothes so can pass as a civilian, also taking a school exercise book that reminds viewers that Jin is still a girl, despite her uniform. Following a hesitant encounter with a large brown bear, she finds a road and hitches a ride to town, but the men she meets see her as an easy target for their sexual advances, and between fending them off and dodging road blocks, she’s given no choice but to return to the mountains. However, man’s destructive behavior has penetrated the deepest glens.
Erdem’s subtle skill at incorporating the animals, especially but not limited to the wrenching final shot, is in many ways the polar opposite of the showy insertions in “Life of Pi.” Here woodland creatures act as melancholy spectators to the destruction they’ve long been familiar with, looking with silent reproach at the incomprehensible inhumanity. “Jin” obliquely addresses the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, yet the forest’s soothing anonymity allows for concepts to be opened more broadly, where humanity’s lack of respect for itself and for the world are cut from the same cloth.
Though his handsome lensing has always impressed, longtime collaborator Florent Herry outdoes himself here with exquisite compositions that must have been a still photographer’s dream. The influence of fairy tales, especially Hansel and Gretel, provides a storybook structure also reflected in the visuals; worth singling out is an overhead shot of Jin asleep under a full moon, her body surrounded by a protective aureole in the rock and looking like the finest illustration from a children’s book. CGI inserts of the animals are seamless and thrilling in a quiet, deeply sensitive manner.