Where the Fire Burns: Film Review
Turkey's Oscar foreign language entry is based on a news story from 2003 in which a father murdered his unmarried daughter on learning that she was pregnant.
At a time when a number of countries seem to be regressing in their attitudes toward women, Turkey’s submission in the foreign language Oscar race seems especially timely—and frightening. Where the Fire Burns is based on a news story from 2003 in which a father murdered his unmarried daughter on learning that she was pregnant. These “honor killings” have been reported in other countries, and the film from director Ismail Gunes catches the horror of this medieval mindset. The movie is a little too sluggish to gain much traction here, but it will sadden and disturb audiences who see it.
The script follows many of the details of the real case. Osman (Hakan Karahan) a laborer on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, is disturbed when his teenage daughter collapses. She is rushed to the hospital, and doctors discover that she has a heart condition which requires surgery. But to the shock of her family, tests also find that she is pregnant. Ayse (Elifcan Ongurlar) refuses to reveal the identity of the father, though we know he is a young man who worked in the area and has run off. After consulting with family elders, Osman decides that the only solution is to kill his daughter for disgracing the family. The girl’s mother does not object, and Osman tells Ayse that he is driving her to a better hospital in another part of the country. On the journey, he intends to poison her and dispose of the body. But as father and daughter spend time together, and he is cut off from social pressures, he becomes more conflicted about the path to take.
After the startling rush of events in the first section of the film, the pace slows during the journey of father and daughter. This was a deliberate decision on the part of the director, but these scenes still seem unnecessarily distended. The performances help to sustain our interest. Ongurlar in particular is heartbreaking. She makes Ayse’s generous spirit completely palpable. In one scene, for example, Osman burns his hand on the car radiator, and Ayse instinctively rushes to a nearby stream to find water to help him. Her innocent, trusting nature begins to affect Osman. Such moments of communion between father and daughter are deeply poignant.
Another strength of this section of the film is the spectacular scenery caught by Gunes and cinematographer Ercan Yilmaz. The journey encompasses breathtaking seaside roads as well as snow-covered forests. Visually the film is consistently striking. A couple of Ayse’s dreams, which make remarkable use of white and blue colors, enhance the film’s haunting atmosphere. Nevertheless, the characters’ trek becomes repetitive, and although we can’t help being affected by this chilling tale, the impact isn’t quite as strong as it might have been.
Cast: Hakan Karahan, Elifcan Ongurlar, Yesim Ceren Bozoglu, Abdullah Sekeroglu, Katharina Weithaler, Dean Baykan
Director-screenwriter: Ismail Gunes
Producers: Baran Seyhan, Aynur Gunes
Director of photography: Ercan Yilmaz
Production designer: Ayhan Cem Mutlu
Music: Saki Cimen
Editor: Mevlut Kocak
No rating, 100 minutes.