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Financial woes corrode filial devotion in writer-director Gorkem Sarkan‘s Mrs Nergis (Nergis Hanim), a productively claustrophobic chamber-piece examining the relationship between an Alzheimer’s-afflicted senior and her exasperated middle-aged son. A kind of small-scale Turkish variant on Michael Haneke‘s Amour, this is a clear-eyed, real-time chronicle of twilight-years infirmities and indignities. While inevitably—and appropriately—uncomfortable viewing at times, the winner of the Best Debut prize at Istanbul in April warrants festival exposure for the way it squarely addresses issues many audiences would prefer not to ponder.
Just as Emmanuelle Riva attracted plaudits and an Oscar nomination for her wrenching performance as a stroke victim in Haneke’s film, a prominent talking-points here is the affecting work by Zerrin Sumer as the eponymous widow Nergis. Although only in her late sixties at the time of filming, Sumer convinces as a significantly older lady who’s in much better shape physically than mentally.
For a full fifteen minutes Ali Piskin‘s camera observes—with documentary detachment— Nergis puttering alone around her dowdy apartment, occasionally shouting through her closed windows at neighbors who are never shown and may not even exist. Having sketched in the milieu, Sarkan now introduces Nergis’s careworn, sixtyish son Ekrem (Settar Tanriogen), a former sailor whose former life on the ocean wave ill-equips him for his current existence’s grindingly repetitive stasis.
This duo’s difficulties are significantly exacerbated by money concerns, as they clearly haven’t benefited from the prosperity of Turkey’s recent economic boom. Indeed, from Ekrem’s perspective the country has been “ruined” and “the times are bad”. The apartment, it transpires, is located in a hazardously crumbling block, and the traditionally strong extended-family ties that formerly sustained Turkish society can no longer be relied upon.
While Nergis is happily oblivious, Ekrem feels the burden weighing heavily on his sloping shoulders. A welcome respite—and a timely change of pace for the viewer—comes when Ekrem’s nephew Gokhan (Faruk Barman) and smilingly bemused niece Bahar (Begum Akkaya) pay a visit, although its consequences are ultimately what pushes him over the brink of desperation.
The grim inevitability of the denouement provides a plausibly downbeat resolution for the protagonists’ intimately-interwoven plight. With minimal means, Sarkan and his collaborators evoke an atmosphere of stultifying confinement, Nergis’s light-diffusing net curtains rendering the world beyond and the skies above as distant, half-remembered blurs.
Production company: AC Film
Cast: Zerrin Sumer, Settar Tanriogen, Faruk Barman, Begum Akkaya
Director / Screenwriter: Gorkem Sarkan
Producer: Caner Özyurtlu
Cinematographer: Ali Piskin
Editor: Alper Ozyurtlu, Gorkem Sarkan
Sales: AC Film, Istanbul
No Rating, 94 minutes
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