Best known on these shores for playing the police commissioner in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’, Yilmaz Erdogan is also a writer-director who obviously has enough clout in the Turkish film industry to mount this lavish historical drama about two of the country’s famed but ill-fated young poets. Set in the 1940s, the story centres on the artistic coming-of-age of 20-something poet Muzaffer Tayyip Uslu (handsome lead Kivanç Tatlitug) and his dramatist best pal Rüstü Onur (character type Mert Firat), as they battle crushing poverty to get their words on the page. But they face an even more powerful foe in the form of tuberculosis, which has infected both of them. Belçim Bilgin plays their romantic foil, a wealthy businessman’s daughter who’s out of their league but is surprisingly responsive to their ideas about poetry and social justice. Erdogan himself contributes an assured turn as the thoughtful teacher who does his best to help their talent flourish.
All of which will inevitably mean a lot more to a Turkish audience familiar with its literary origins, since there’s a lot of poetic recitation involved and its effect is muted by subtitles. Moreover, Erdogan’s film lacks the dramatic intensity to draw newcomers into their plight, since it’s an essentially leisurely and old-fashioned costume picture rather hamstrung by historical facts which limit the story development. The performers give it their all, as the syrupy score hopes to persuade us of the grandiose tragedy unfolding. But, sadly, what’s on screen proves as ploddingly turgid as it is achingly sincere.