×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘Passed By Censor’

A censor working in a Turkish prison becomes obsessed with an inmate's mysterious wife in this capable, low-key thriller debut.

Director:
Serhat Karaaslan
With:
Berkay Ates, Saadet Isil Aksoy, Fusun Demirek, Ipek Turktan Kaynak, Erdem Senocak. (Turkish dialogue)

Running time: 95 MIN.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” Gene Hackman played a surveillance expert who insists that curiosity is beyond the purview of his job, only to become obsessed with the mystery contained in a recorded conversation. A similar paradox informs Serhat Karaaslan’s debut feature “Passed by Censor,” in which a Turkish prison officer who fancies himself a writer fixates on the family of one of his inmates after he starts writing a fictionalized story about them. Censorship vs. creativity, paranoid fantasy vs. wishful thinking, the point where privacy ends and secrecy begins — all these heady elements simmer away against the backdrop of an inherently repressive institution in an increasingly authoritarian society. With parts like these, it’s little wonder that Karaaslan’s film adds up to a bit less than their sum.

His humdrum days spent painstakingly erasing potentially bothersome phrases from inmates’ letters, prison censor Zakir (Berkay Ates), who lives at home with his fussbudget mother (Fusum Demirel) while also secretly attending a creative writing class, first scribbles outside the lines of his job description due to a photograph. At a glance, the picture, which falls from one of the envelopes stacked on his desk for inspection, seems to be an anodyne family snap of an inmate, his attractive wife Selma (Saadet Isil Aksoy) and his father Adnan (Mufit Kayacan). But examined more closely, it contains a little enigma: The hand resting proprietorially on Selma’s shoulder — is it her husband’s or her father-in-law’s?

Encouraged by his tutor’s response to the story inspired by the photo, and egged on by classmate/Girl Friday Emel (Ipek Turktan Kaynak), a murder mystery aficionado, Zakir starts to watch Selma more closely on her frequent visits to the prison. The glimpses he gets — a strange undergarment, a snapped-off argument with Adnan, a scrap of stilted conversation between her and her husband — could all have innocent explanations. But stitched together by Zakir’s increasingly obsessive writer’s instinct, they build to a sinister conspiracy, with Selma as the beautiful damsel in need of rescue.

Popular on Variety

The plotting of Karaaslan’s screenplay is smooth and taut. He gets engaging performances from all his cast, especially Ates and the sparky Kaynak, even if he does over-rely on burning wordless glances between Zakir and the supermodel-gorgeous Selma to carry the weight of their unspoken connection. And in the absence of score, Johannes Doberenz’ precise sound design finds clever uses for ambient noise: the clattery echoes of gloss-painted institutional corridors, strip lighting that buzzes like paranoid thought and the irritating scratching of a biro through thin paper on a desktop. Yet despite all these smart flourishes, the film feels a little thin, as reflected in the deliberately flat-lit banality of Meryem Yavuz’ cinematography.

The grand tradition of the surveillance thriller has several canonical high-water marks, many of which Karaaslan’s film seems to homage, directly or otherwise. There’s a little bit of Antonioni’s “Blow Up,” and De Palma’s homage “Blow Out,” in the perusing of a photograph and a taped conversation, respectively. And, perhaps because of Zakir’s position of authority, as well as his eventual first-person contact with his subjects, it irresistibly recalls Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others,” in which a Stasi agent is moved to intervene in the affairs of the couple he is observing. But if these reference points are impressive, they also highlight what Karaaslan’s film is missing: Each of those classics derives as much tension from the political and social circumstances in which they are set as they do from the mysteries their hapless protagonists flail around solving. “Passed by Censor” is comparatively meek in relating Zakir’s pathology to the wider circumstances that fostered it, and so while it engages as a thriller, it lacks its touchpoints’ grainy, subversive vitality.

As a first film, and a well-built one at that, it does succeed on a smaller canvas, in highlighting the quandary of a man of sensitive nature trapped in a profession that requires insensitivity — perhaps even the boorishness that many of Zakir’s co-workers display. And there is a refreshing, if deep-buried, streak of mordant wit (the film can otherwise feel a little humorless) in the psychological contradiction between the act of writing words, and of erasing them. But perhaps the enjoyably absorbing “Passed by Censor” works best as a study of an aspiring writer. A lot of Zakir’s odd behavior ultimately springs from the tension between the world of his imagination and the real world, that does not conform to satisfyingly plotted Agatha Christie rules, a perpetual disappointment to which most writers — and most anyone who spends too much time in their own head — can probably relate.

Karlovy Vary Film Review: 'Passed By Censor'

Reviewed at Karloy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 3, 2019. Running time: 95 MIN. (Original title: "Görülmüştür")

Production: (Turkey-Germany-France) A +90 Film production in co-production with Departures Film, Silex Films, with the support of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Eurimages, Mitteldeutsche Medienforderung, Toy, Bir Film. (Int'l sales: BAC, Paris.) Producers: Serkan Cakarer, Undine Filter, Thomas Kral, Judith Nora, Priscilla Bertin.

Crew: Director, writer: Serhat Karaaslan. Camera (color, widescreen): Meryem Yavuz. Editor: Ali Aga.

With: Berkay Ates, Saadet Isil Aksoy, Fusun Demirek, Ipek Turktan Kaynak, Erdem Senocak. (Turkish dialogue)

More Film

  • Anti-Gone

    Sundance: 2020 New Frontier Program Features Underwater VR, Chomsky A.I.

    The Sundance Institute revealed the last batch of programming for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — minus a few last-minute additions to its feature lineup, still to come —  by announcing its New Frontier section, which this time around include not only augmented and virtual reality, but also SMS-based text messaging, biotech and artificial intelligence. [...]

  • Catherine Deneuve'Joker' premiere, 76th Venice Film

    Catherine Deneuve Out of Hospital After Stroke (Report)

    Catherine Deneuve has returned to her Paris home after more than a month in the hospital and at a rest home following a mild stroke, according to French report. The French screen icon was seen out and about by her neighbors in the Saint Germain arrondissement of Paris. Deneuve, 76, had what her family called [...]

  • Alma Harrel Honey Boy

    Hollywood Still Struggles With Parity Behind the Camera

    When Kees van Oostrum, president of the American Society of Cinematographers, was at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, he noticed that many documentaries had been shot by women. But he was also aware of the dismal number of female lensers hired for feature films. “I realized we had to do something,” he says. That [...]

  • Mob Town

    'Mob Town': Film Review

    “Who doesn’t love spaghetti?” asks New York State Trooper Ed Croswell (David Arquette) while on a date with single mother Natalie (Jennifer Esposito) in “Mob Town,” and the answer, according to Danny A. Abeckaser’s film, is no one. The traditional Italian dish figures prominently in this low-rent Mafia tale, which — based on an infamous [...]

  • Code 8

    'Code 8': Film Review

    Essentially a humbler, grungier indie “X-Men” without the same dependence on splashy effects, “Code 8” is a solid genre effort from director Jeff Chan. Spun off from his prior short of the same name, the crowdfunded effort is resourceful and polished on a tight budget. Its fast-paced progress has enough appeal to suggest a possible [...]

  • Cats Movie

    'Cats' Producers Respond to Twitter Trailer Backlash

    The producers of “Cats” have seen the memes and read the mean tweets that greeted the first trailer for the big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage smash. When the initial teaser was launched this past summer, social media commentators feasted on the way that an A-list cast that includes Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content