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There have been lots of recent films chronicling the arduous journey that people make from the Middle East to Western Europe, but few have followed that trajectory in the opposite direction. That’s probably one of the principal merits of Black Crow (Siyah Karga), a minimalist road movie about an Iranian expat trying to illegally return to her homeland across the mountainous terrains of southeastern Turkey.
Written and directed by M. Tayfur Aydin (The Trace), this bare-bones adventure offers up breathtaking locations that give the viewer a “you are there” kind of experience, and one that is fitfully captured by DP Emre Konuk’s sweeping cinematography. But the lack of absorbing characters and storylines, as well as the withholding of a major plot point until the 11th hour, will make this voyage — which premiered in Istanbul and is now playing competition at the Antalya Film Festival — a tough sell to foreign audiences uninterested in highly austere art house fare.
Sara (Sebnem Hassanisoughi) is an actress who’s been exiled in Paris for over 20 years and whose life is suddenly upended when she receives a letter from her estranged father back in Iran. Without explanation, she decides to return home immediately and by the only way she can: across the treacherous mountains of Turkey’s Hakkari Province, a Kurdish-populated region that borders Iraq on one side and Iran on the other, with soldiers constantly patrolling the rugged, snow-capped roads in between.
To help get her across, Sara enlists Yilmaz (Aziz Capkurt), a local who is fluent in both English and Kurdish. The two then set off with a dozen other travelers on foot or by mule, carrying few provisions and relying primarily on instincts to guide them. Most of the group winds up turning back, especially when pinned down by Turkish troops, but Sara persists in her desire to reach Iran at all costs, dragging Yilmaz with her and putting them both in considerable danger along the way.
Filmed on location in Hakkari, Black Crow proves to be an immersive viewing experience at times, especially when Aydin allows the camera to linger on the gray hills stretching into the distance, with the characters dwarfed by the magnificent landscapes. One shot, which reveals a line of oil derricks speckled over the mountaintops, looks so perfect that it could have been created via visual effects, as do a few scenes where mist creeps across the frame in the most cinematic way possible.
But the strong imagery does not make up for the fact that Aydin never develops a captivating enough narrative, giving us so little information about Sara that it’s hard to stick by her side for the film’s 90-plus minutes. Likewise, the relationship between the actress and her guide, Yilmaz, could have made for an intriguing subplot — and maybe even a romance of sorts — but they hardly talk to one another, with Sara only explaining her backstory during the closing minutes.
Meant to channel the wounds caused by exile and abandon, the final sequences of Black Crow do have a certain power to them and thankfully avoid any kind of uplifting ending. There are only a few false notes in the English-language performances, as well as in the rather treacly soundtrack, but otherwise Aydin delivers a slow if ambitious portrait of foreign bodies in foreign lands — a quest that’s impressive in scope but that lacks a suitable heroine at its core.
Venue: Antalya Film Festival
Production company: MTA Film
Cast: Sebnem Hassanisoughi, Aziz Capkurt, Murat Toprak, Sedat Clum
Director-screenwriter: M. Tayfur Aydin
Producer: Muslum Aydin
Director of photography: Emre Konuk
Production designers: Ayse Abayoglu, Hulya Karakas
Editor-composer: Selim Demirdelen
Sales: MTA Film
In Kurdish, Turkish, English
Not rated, 98 minutes
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