Taciturn, working-class patriarch Eyüp (Yavuz Bingol) acquiesces when his politician boss Servet (Ercan Kesal) runs over and kills a stranger on a country road and asks his employee to serve time in jail on his behalf. While Eyüp is in jail, his wife Hacer (Hatice Aslan) and teenage son Ismail (Rifat Sungar), who live in a suburban flat by a menacing sea, manage to turn a difficult family set-up into a situation that borders on the furthest reaches of dysfunction. Both Ismail and Hacer find themselves in the pay of Servet – to the extent that when Eyüp returns from jail a few months later, the natural order of their household is broken forever. There’s a hint of a return to sad normality later on, but only at the expense of a horrible pact that leaves a sour taste in the mouth regarding the extent of human venality.
Ceylan is a director who can find the blackest of humour in the darkest of corners and, we now know, can pinpoint the subtlest of gestures in the most melodramatic of stories. The interesting thing about this experiment is that on the surface Ceylan’s fifth feature, which won Best Director at Cannes, is his most mainstream yet. However, in telling a wild, tragic story that hinges on man’s constant ability to find a weaker fellow to prey on, he relies on less obvious tools than most filmmakers would: silence, close-ups, the subtle manipulation of colours, clever sound design and breathtaking composition. While favouring reality over fantasy, he still manages to lend his film, which is blessed with a crisp, autumnal palette of greens and yellows and browns, a vivid sense of the universal and the theatrical by setting it largely in one bold location – a simple apartment at the top of a concrete block – over which we intermittently hear thunder crack and see lightning flicker.
As with Ceylan’s other films, this is cinema that requires patience and attention, but the rewards are many. It’s not entirely successful. There are moments when the demands of the plot rub up against Ceylan’s more ascetic instincts, and there are longueurs that frustrate. But this is a fascinating transitional film from an intriguing director at the top of his game.