'Across the Sea': Slamdance Review
In this debut feature from Esra Saydam and Nisan Dag, a Turkish immigrant returns to her hometown with her American husband only to be reunited with a former lover.
A slowly simmering drama infused by incisive characterizations and its gorgeous setting of a coastal town on the Aegean Sea, Esra Saydam and Nisan Dag's feature debut avoids cheap melodrama in its tale of a Turkish woman who returns to her hometown with her American husband only to be reunited with her former love. Featuring an interestingly enigmatic performance from Damla Sonmez in the lead role, Across the Sea was recently showcased at the Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature. Careful handling should help it find appreciate audiences on the art house circuit.
Having emigrated to New York City years earlier to pursue a business career, Damla (Sonmez) is now married to Kevin (Jacob Fishel), a successful lawyer. She's also six months pregnant and is clearly ambivalent about her condition, as evidenced by her habits of sneaking cigarettes and wine on nocturnal excursions.
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When her sister contacts her to inform that their childhood home is about to be sold, Kevin convinces his reluctant spouse to journey with him to her former home in Karaka, a sleepy seaside village, so that he can be exposed to where she came from. The reason for her hesitation becomes evident after they make the trip and she comes into contact with the handsome Burak (Ahmet Rifat Sungar), a bar owner who was her first love.
The resulting simmering tensions are slowly delineated in the leisurely paced screenplay by the co-directors, with the dramatic high point of the film's first half being an unfortunate encounter between a terrified little girl and a baby octopus that she discovers clinging to her leg during a dip in the crystalline waters. Burak, who the child clearly idolizes, tenderly handles the situation, although his darker side is quickly revealed when he's seen shortly afterwards pounding the harmless creature to death on a rock.
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Things come to a more dramatic head when Damla reveals to Burak that she had aborted an earlier pregnancy about which he had no prior knowledge even though he was clearly the father. The increasingly tense Kevin soon gets wind of their prior relationship, with a fight breaking out between the two men.
The potentially maudlin material is handled with delicate sensitivity and restraint, with the situations and characterizations drawn with an uncommon complexity. Women in particular will find it easy to relate to Damla's dilemma and her conflicting feelings about the path she's chosen in life, even if the character herself is not particularly likeable. Besides Sonmez's impressive turn, there are also fine performances by Fishel, quietly conveying the husband's essential decency and feelings of insecurity, and the charismatic Sungar, the sort of sexy bad boy to which women are so easily drawn.
The languorous beauty of the setting is perfectly captured in John Wakayama Carey's lustrous cinematography, which should do wonders for Turkish tourism.
Production: Karlakum Film, Sand & Snow Films
Cast: Damla Sonmez, Jacob Fishel, Ahmet, Rifat Sungar, Elif Urse
Directors/screenwriters: Esra Saydam, Nisan Dag
Producers: Esra Saydam, Gerry Kim, Robert Lavenstein, Alvaro R. Valente
Executive producer: Essen Blake
Director of photography: John Wakayama Carey
Production designer: Neslihan Arslan
Editor: Ozcan Vardar
Costume designer: Ayse Yildiz
Composer: Kyle Woodworth
Casting: Ezgi Baltas, Kate Murray
No rating, 105 minutes