You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Album’

Romania's New Wave comes to Turkey in Mehmet Can Mertoğlu's impressively composed comedy of forged family history.

Şebnem Bozoklu, Murat Kiliç, Riza Akin, Mihriban Er, Ali Meriç, Müfit Kayacan, Sencar Sağdiç, Şafak Karali, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Binnaz Ekren, Cem Zeynel Kiliç, Muttalip Müjdeci, Ayhan Ergürsel. (Turkish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4909984/?ref_=nm_flmg_cin_1

Every picture tells a story — just not necessarily the whole one. For the gormlessly duplicitous protagonists of “Album,” family snaps serve to construct memories rather than preserve them: They may be working through paper photo albums rather than Instagram or Facebook, but Turkish writer-director Mehmet Can Mertoğlu’s substantial debut feature can’t suppress a sneer at the very 21st-century practice of exhaustive yet evasively filtered self-documentation. That’s hardly the only modern malady under fire in this elegantly opaque social satire, which touches on bureaucratic ineptitude, class conflict and very questionable parenting in its elliptical tale of a dully respectable couple taking elaborate measures to conceal their adopted child’s provenance.

Romania, alongside Turkey and France, is a co-producing territory on this project, with “Child’s Pose” director Calin Peter Netzer among the names on a formidable production bench. (Ditto leading Bosnian auteur Danis Tanovic.) The country seems more than just a financial ally to “Album,” however: The rigorous influence of the much-vaunted Romanian New Wave, often characterized by its mordant humor in the face of institutional corruption, is clear here, as Mertoğlu walks an often surprisingly fine line between bitter realism and deadpan absurdism. Even the film’s somber, fine-wool visual textures — courtesy of Romanian cinematographer Marius Panduru’s deep-toned 35mm lensing, in varied, overlapped shades of burlap brown and office-carpet blue — explicitly recalls the movement’s austere, deliberately dulled beauty. (Panduru himself was the lenser behind Corneliu Porumboiu’s essential “Police, Adjective.”)

Such transnational trappings notwithstanding, “Album” is distinctively preoccupied with Turkish society, carving out delicate separations and tensions within the local population that won’t be immediately obvious to all viewers. That’s one reason among many — including Mertoğlu’s drily open-ended storytelling and knowingly resistible characters — that his auspicious debut, while set for healthy festival travel following its Cannes Critics’ Week bow, might not gain the distributor attention it merits. Indeed, the film’s establishing premise will seem far more notably eccentric to outsiders than to locals: In Turkey, where a sad social stigma is still affixed to infertility, it is reportedly not uncommon for adoptive parents to fabricate evidence of their non-biological child’s entry into the world.

Popular on Variety

For tax office worker Bahar (Şebnem Bozoklu) and history teacher Cüneyt (Murat Kiliç), that extends not just to methodically staged pregnancy photo shoots on the beach — complete with artificial bump, of course — but enlisting doctors and nurses at a local hospital to pose uncertainly with the couple’s newfound progeny in a maternity ward. In many senses, Bahar and Cüneyt seem more interested in validating the process of having a child than in having the child itself: In one breathtakingly cruel scene set at a wilting adoption agency, they reject the beaming baby girl offered to them — having already stated a dispassionate preference for a male child — on the basis of her skin tone. “I don’t like her much,” Bahar mutters. “She seems Syrian, like a Kurd.” Later, they complain to an aghast adoption officer that they felt “no social bond” with the baby: Is this otherwise mildly middle-class couple denying the girl a home out of spiteful racial prejudice, or a narcissistic desire for a child who could plausibly have sprung from their combined loins? At what point do those motivations become the same thing?

Bahar and Cüneyt’s aggressive pursuit of surface normalcy, ironically enough, may seem entirely sociopathic to some onlookers, though the system, as unflatteringly portrayed here, largely abets their charade — apathetically greasing the paperwork procedures involved, and granting Cüneyt’s request for a job transfer from the city of Antalya to distant Kayseri, where they can cultivate a fresh social circle with no awareness of their recent family planning. (That Cüneyt teaches history to schoolchildren is a rich detail considering his own blatant invention of a past.) It’s only late in the film, when they discover a legal record of their adoption in police files, that the two acknowledge any kind of potential permanence to the truth. “Album” never suggests what the consequences might be for the family if they stop running from, and around, the facts: Whether a genuine threat of social ostracization lurks in their polite, mall-going community, or whether their own snobbery has driven them to delusion, is one of the most teasing ambiguities of Mertoğlu’s terse script.

“Album” is more rewarding when it parses such everyday mysteries of human behavior than when it shoots for the patently surreal. A gliding pan across defeated civil servants (save for a wide-awake Bahar) asleep at their desks, while Cüneyt is conversely shown stoically sitting through raucous classroom antics, feels a bit too heavily pointed. A disconnected, initially bewildering opening sequence, meanwhile, gazes coolly upon a swift act of industrial bovine mating as the bull’s sperm is retained and a calf is later born: Framed and cut with aloof, minty precision, this wordless prologue comes to make on-the-nose sense as the film’s themes of biology and personal ownership emerge. Mertoğlu’s calmly tragic, unsmilingly funny film captures human nature harshly enough to render such symbolism extraneous.

Cannes Film Review: 'Album'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 12, 2016. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Turkey-France-Romania) A Kamara, A.S.A.P. Films, Parada Film production in co-production with Arte France Cinema. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Yoel Meranda, Eytan İpeker. Co-producers, Cedomir Kolar, Marc Baschet, Danis Tanovic, Oana Iancu, Calin Peter Netzer.

Crew: Directed, written by Mehmet Can Mertoğlu. Camera (color, 35mm), Marius Panduru; editors, Ayhan Ergürsel, Mertoğlu; production designers, Meral Efe, Yunus Emre Yurtseven; costume designer, Seda Yilmaz; sound, Bruno Tarrière; sound designer, Serdar Öngören; re-recording mixer, Tarrière; line producer, Sara Merih Ertaş; assistant director, Mustafa Emin Buyukcoskun; casting, Kutay Sandikçi.

With: Şebnem Bozoklu, Murat Kiliç, Riza Akin, Mihriban Er, Ali Meriç, Müfit Kayacan, Sencar Sağdiç, Şafak Karali, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Binnaz Ekren, Cem Zeynel Kiliç, Muttalip Müjdeci, Ayhan Ergürsel. (Turkish dialogue)

More Film

  • My Zoe

    'My Zoe': Film Review

    There are two films in Julie Delpy’s ambitious, sharply-made but unbalanced “My Zoe.” There’s the scabrous relationship melodrama, about bitter exes sharing custody of a beloved child, which contains the story’s most potent emotions. And there’s the sci-fi-inflected ethical-dilemma grief movie, which houses its most provocative ideas. Both have much to recommend them, not least [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    The Big Lie of 'Richard Jewell' (Column)

    For a man who was so enraged at the administration of Barack Obama that he spent his 2012 Republican Convention speech lecturing an empty chair, Clint Eastwood has made a number of conventional, level-headed — one might even say liberal — political dramas. Films like “Invictus” and “J. Edgar” and “Midnight in the Garden of [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Star Wars The Rise

    Oscar Isaac Has Never Felt Like a 'Star Wars' Insider

    Unlike his “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” co-stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, Oscar Isaac had already established a long and acclaimed acting career before J.J. Abrams cast him as ace X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including standout roles in 2006’s “The Nativity Story” and 2011’s “Drive,” and [...]

  • Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects

    Les Arcs to Showcase New Projects by Jonas Alexander Arnby, Agnieszka Smoczyńska

    Denmark’s Jonas Alexander Arnby, France’s Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, and Poland’s Agnieszka Smoczyńska are among up-and-coming directors from across Europe whose latest projects will be presented at the 11th Coproduction Village of Les Arcs Film Festival. This edition of Les Arcs Coproduction Village will showcase a total of 22 European projects spanning 19 countries. [...]

  • Chez Jolie Coiffure

    'Chez Jolie Coiffure': Film Review

    Shortly before the credits roll on “Chez Jolie Coiffure,” a customer in the eponymous hair salon asks her stylist, Sabine, if she has any plans to go home this year. Out of context, this sounds like the kind of standard, empty small talk one often makes while having one’s hair cut: what good movies you’ve [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content