Cold (Soguk): Berlin Review
Veteran Turkish director Ugur Yucel frames an over-cooked saga of savage frontier justice in stunning wintry landscapes.
BERLIN - Combining elements of Chekhov’s Three Sisters with a brutal murder plot set in a remote Turkish frontier town, this fatalistic melodrama from veteran actor turned writer-director Ugur Yucel at least deserves credit for artistic ambition. Launched to packed screenings at the 2013's Berlin International Film Festival, where it was clearly a hot ticket among the German capital’s large Turkish population, Cold is a visually striking but crudely drawn fable of deep-frozen lives in the Wild East.
The action takes place in icy midwinter in Kars, a former Russian imperial outpost close to the Turkish-Georgian border, which also featured heavily in Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk’s 2002 novel Snow. Stunning shots of the vast wintry vistas surrounding the town lend the film a starkly beautiful look, but they cannot compensate for cartoonish characters and a ham-fisted story. Yucel has a solid track record at home, scoring a major domestic hit with his police thriller Dragon Trap three years ago. Cold may well find similar favor with local audiences, but it will struggle to impress foreign film fans accustomed to more sophisticated art-house fare from Turkey.
Tragic events are set in motion when taciturn railroad worker Balabey (Cenk Medet Alibeyoglu) attends the wedding of his hot-tempered younger brother Enver (A. Rifat Sungar) to Boncuk (Ezgi Mola), the sister of Balabey’s own pregnant wife Fincan (Sebnem Bozoklu). Reluctantly pressed into joining the post-party celebrations, the mentally slow railway-man ends up in bed with Irina (Valeria Skorokhodova), one of three Russian sisters working as prostitutes in Kars while dreaming of escape to Moscow. Formerly a stern but staunchly moral husband, Balabey’s guilty fascination with Irina soon blossoms into an obsessive rescue fantasy of Travis Bickle proportions.
The opening act of Cold sets up an elemental clash of human passions that could have come from Greek tragedy, Thomas Hardy or John Steinbeck. However, the plot soon degenerates into a pointless, implausible bloodbath which leaves most of the key protagonists dead. Even worse, the male characters are such boorishly unsympathetic brutes, and the women such thinly drawn symbols of victimhood, that it becomes impossible to care much about any of their fates. Irina’s resemblance to a young Nicole Kidman and Balabey’s to Borat do not help matters in this regard.
If Yucel intended his film as a serious protest against the stifling machismo of small heartland communities, he misses the target with this overblown celebration of blood, family honor and testosterone. Cold is a rare achievement, a boring rampage of revenge. Stunning landscapes, shame about the schlocky melodrama.
Venue: Berlin Panorama screening, February 14
Production company: TMC Yapim Ltd
Producer: Erol Avci
Cast: Cenk Medet Alibeyoglu, A. Rifat Sungar, Valeria Skorokhodova, Yulia Vanyukova, Yulia Erenler, Sebnem Bozoklu, Ezgi Mola
Director: Ugur Yucel
Screenwriter: Ugur Yucel
Cinematographer: A. Emre Tanyildiz
Editors: Ulas Cihan Simsek, Mark Marnikovic
Music: Murat Basaran, Ugur Yucel
Sales company: TMC Yapim Ltd
Unrated, 105 minutes