A handful of men in 1963 Istanbul try to get to Istanbul Radio headquarters to announce a successful military coup in Ankara in the austerely staged tragicomedy The Announcement (Anons), the third feature from talented Turkish director Mahmut Fazil Coskun (Yozgat Blues). Nothing goes according to plan and yet this film, co-written by the director and actor turned screenwriter Ercan Kesal, is at least very loosely inspired by true events. Playing like an unholy mix of bone-dry comedy and a deadly serious meditation on the transience of those in power, this is a precision-tooled little gem that might nonetheless be a tough sell even for arthouse audiences — though a major award from Venice, where it bowed in the Horizons competition, would certainly help.
The Announcement opens with a scene in a glaringly bright hospital room, where a German doctor (Ahmet Boyacioglu) inspects a potential Turkish migrant worker, Murat (Erdem Senocak), with the help of an interpreter. Murat’s finally rejected, though it will take a while before he resurfaces in the story. Shot only in wide shots, the immaculately white room sharply contrasts with the penumbral interior of the cramped Istanbul taxi driving around on a rainy night in the scene that follows. If the promise of West Germany looked wide open and bright, if perhaps a tad too sterile, Turkey looks like something straight out of an uncomfortably claustrophobic film noir in which bad things are about to happen and fate seems inescapable. The intentionally stark contrast between the two scenes serves as a reminder of Coskun’s impressive command of mise-en-scene, which has been on display since his powerful debut feature, 2009’s Wrong Rosary, but which is here further elevated by working with technicians from co-producing Eastern Europe.
After the prologue, an everyman taxi driver (Mehmet Yilmaz Ak) picks up two mysterious, well-dressed men, Reha (Ali Seckiner Alici), who sits in the back, and Sinasi (Tarhan Karagoz), who rides shotgun. At first, nothing much seems to happen as they drive through the dark city at night with the radio on. A dog that’s been hurt blocks their path. Later, they are stopped by police at a roadblock. The behavior of the two men slowly becomes more suspicious but it isn’t until they’ve reached their destination, a furious rainstorm breaks loose and they shoot the driver in cold blood that it becomes clear they really weren’t regular passengers.
It slowly emerges — too slowly, since the pitch and title will have made most audiences at least vaguely aware of what the story is about — that they are two members of a small group of local co-conspirators undertaking a coup organized in Ankara by the military. It is their job to get to the Istanbul Radio studios to announce that the military has taken over the country, a task that turns out to be much more complicated than expected. Not only on the ground, in terms of getting to the radio and then actually getting on air, but also because, since it is 1963 Turkey, communication between Ankara and Istanbul is incredibly slow.
Besides Reha and Sinasi, the small band comprises Kemal (Murat Kilic), who turns out to be the owner of a bakery where Murat works; Nazif (Nazmi Kirik), who arrives so late the group almost leaves without him; and Rifat (Sencan Guleryuz), who fought in the Korean war some 10 years earlier. The introduction of these characters gradually and artfully ups the dry-comedy ante, with Kemal bragging about becoming an official reseller of “cooling cabinets” — fridges had just arrived on the market in Turkey — and Rifat restaging the reason he was expelled from the Korean front in one of the film’s most gloriously absurd moments. Among many scenes that demonstrate how the director marries mirth and matters of the mind, the scene features a man “just” singing the wrong song while, at a deeper level, simultaneously suggesting how rulers need to be ruthless about any misuse of the symbols that help legitimize their power.
After a quite serious early going, the film’s second half becomes more overtly comedic even as it goes into more depth thematically. However, the absurd and comedic moments are occasionally undercut by outbursts of unexpected violence, including, shockingly, against one of their own.
Describing what exactly lies ahead in terms of cinematic references — say, Kaurismaki meets the Coen brothers but with a distinctly Anatolian twist — would actually do a disservice to Coskun’s talents for creating the film’s unique mood and atmosphere. Many disparate elements impressively coalesce into a singular tale of bizarre goings-on that suggests something about the absurdity of power and how it is never absolute but always dependent on at least most of the little radars in the machine functioning together to create the illusion of authority and control.
The Announcement’s biggest laugh comes from the manager of the radio station (Serkan Ercan, from the director’s Yozgat Blues), who complains that he never gets a heads-up about upcoming coups so how is he supposed to be ready? He then immediately suggests a solution to a pressing problem by referring to the earlier coups the radio station has had experience with in the past couple of years. While it may be the work’s most facile laugh, it is also, clearly, the most telling.
The all-round impressive cast always plays everything completely straight, which helps to anchor the film’s more somber concerns in reality even as situations might get comically out of hand. On the technical side, Bulgarian cinematographer Krum Rodriguez (Viktoria, Godless), who likes to keep his camera stationary, is the perfect ally for Coskun’s talent for mise-en-scene, while Hungarian production designer Laszlo Rajk (Son of Saul) manages to create fully realized interiors with as little as a Martini bottle, featured as a prop in two key moments and also the subject of yet another hilarious joke in the film’s closing stretch.
Production companies: Filmotto Production, Chouchkov Brothers, BKM
Cast: Ali Seckiner Alici, Tarhan Karagoz, Murat Kilic, Sencan Guleryuz, Serkan Ercan, Erdem Senocak, Sanem Oge, Mehmet Yimaz Ak
Director: Mahmut Fazil Coskun
Screenplay: Ercan Kesal, Mahmut Fazil Coskun
Producers: Halil Kardas, Tarik Tufan
Executive producers: Jim Stark, Sinan Yusufoglu, Bulut Reyhanoglu, Yusuf Aslanyurek
Director of photography: Krum Rodriguez
Production designer: Laszlo Rajk
Costume designer: Tuba Atac
Editor: Cicek Kahraman
Music: Okan Kaya
Casting: Ezgi Baltas
Sales: Heretic Outreach
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Horizons)
No rating, 94 minutes