Let’s Sin (Itirazim Var): Istanbul Review

Istanbul International Film Festival
A premise irreverent towards cultural and generic norms slowly gives way to soap-style aesthetics and closure.

Onur Unlu's noir-laced comedy tracks a Muslim cleric's efforts to solve a murder at his mosque.

Just a year after winning the Istanbul International Film Festival's top prize with the black-and-white rural superhero film Thou Gil'st the Even, Turkish filmmaker Onur Unlu has swiftly returned to the event with yet another of his outlandish takes on genre cinema. Mixing comedy with noir, Let's Sin revolves around an irreverent imam who goes to absurd extremes to investigate a fatal shooting inside his mosque.

Long regarded a maverick in his country – the director has readily admitted (as shown in his Golden Tulip acceptance speech in Istanbul last year) that serious critics loathe his films – Unlu's latest will probably be less divisive. Not because he has tempered his madcap themes – the devout would certainly be antagonized by the religious irreverence ingrained in the characters here – but that Let's Sin looks like a lesser work compared to his previous efforts.

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With a rushed narrative undermined by a clichéd closure and Okan Kaya and Taner Yucel's score perennially bubbling in the background, the film unfolds more like a detective TV show wrought large. Serkan Keskin's bravura performance in the lead role would prove crucial to its box-office draw as the film opened on Apr. 18, just three days after its world premiere as a national competition entry at the Istanbul festival.

The film might have eventually secured a Best Director title at the festival, but it looks unlikely Unlu's latest will travel as easily as Thou Gild'st the Even, which is still doing the rounds at international festivals with its next stop being Jeonju in South Korea in a fortnight's time.

Teaming up with Unlu again after Even and the TV series Ben de Ozledim,Keskin takes centerstage in Let's Sin as Selman, whose paradoxical traits as an unusual cleric are introduced at the very beginning of the film when he's seen seated at his office, amusing himself by simultaneously playing traditional music and engaging in a long-distance chess game via text messaging. This is just the first of many a paradox which defines Selman and his realm: His muezzin Ephraim (Umut Kurt) is actually a Christian, his daughter Zeynep (Hazal Kaya) is a hip and modern art student, and the imam himself is not immune to making the odd barbed remark about religion, half-jokingly telling a friend that he studied anthropology so as to find "a rational explanation for monotheism".

This sardonism would eventually serve Selman well, as a murder of a businessman at a morning-prayer session at his mosque brings out the private-eye in him. With nearly everyone around him becoming a suspect and the authorities inept and indifferent in investigating the shooting, Selman is forced to wade in as he discovers him implicated by the victim having deposited a fortune into his account before he perished. Just like the hard-boiled detective in film noir, Selman seals himself off from thinking about the absurdities of life around him; he takes many a liberty as he and his "Watson" – his daughter's lived-in boyfriend Gokhan (Oner Erkan) – pursues the killer, whether it's making the cross at a church or drinking liquor in an effort o pick up clues for the case.

Unlu is unabashed in flagging up the film's noir genre traits for fun in Let's Sin, and Selmut's hapless romp amidst shady bankers and suspicious lawyers as he travels from his Istanbul neighborhood in Eminonu to commercial and cultural hub in downtown Beyoglu is at first hectic to the hilt. But it's as if the director couldn't come up with the imaginative off-tangent twists which made Given an abnormal comedy: Selmut's eventual resolution of the case falls flat into the unconvincing, unsubstantiated big-reveal trope, with the reason of the murder similarly succumbing into the clichés of childhood-trauma revenge. It's a conformity to norms which veers close to telenovela territory – and something which Unlu might not want to allow seeping into his cinema if he is to sustain the touring success he's begun to attain.

Venue: Press screening, Istanbul International Film Festival (National Competition), Apr. 15, 2014

Production Company: U10 Film

Director: Onur Unlu

Cast: Serkan Keskin, Hazal Kaya, Busra Pekin, Oner Erkan, Osman Sonant, Serdar Orcin

Producer: Onur Unlu

Screenwriter: Onur Unlu, Siri Sureyya Onder

Director of Photography: Vedat Ozdemir

Editor: Emre Boyraz

Music: Okan Kaya, Taner Yucel

International Sales: U10 Film

In Turkish

110 minutes

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