Beyond the Hill (Tepenin Ardi): Berlin Film Review

Finely wrought and acted psychological drama cleverly plays on the repressed violence and projections of a Turkish family on holiday.

First-time director Emin Alper makes his debut with an unsettling Turkish drama centered on a family reunited on holiday.

Beyond the Hill, an unsettling drama set in the Turkish wilderness, plays on the “something out there” fears of a small family clan united for a summer holiday. With all the action taking place off-camera, the classic horror elements give way to a highly controlled psychological drama that veers into social parable. The glancing, off-key approach chosen by first-time director Emin Alper makes the skin crawl almost from first shot to last but will also limit the film’s audience to art house tribes willing to make some mental effort to fill in plot points Alper’s script only suggests.

The influence of director Nuri Bilge Ceylan seems to be rampant in Turkish festival films, and this is one of his more successful heirs. There is the same attention to a realistic setting, psychological detail and Chekhovian interest in delving into the soul of the common man. All the important things are never said, only hinted at, and the distracted viewer can miss the whole point of the film very easily.

Mr. Faik (Tamer Levent) is a proud old-time farmer very attached to his land, which stretches over a remote canyon covered with ancient stone caves and woods. Lately, a band of nomads (never seen) have been grazing their goats without permission, and Faik and his hulking helper Mehmet (Mehmet Ozgur) have stolen a goat in revenge. When Faik’s son Nusret (Reha Ozcan) comes to visit with his two sons, the goat is butchered for dinner and the countdown is on to a full-fledged blood feud.

Yet the basis of hostilities is not what it seems, because almost everything that happens in the film occurs in the minds of the characters, described with quiet nuance by an excellent cast. Nusret’s older son Zafer (Berk Hakman), a handsome young man of soldiering age, is subject to severe hallucinations and continually imagines he sees a group of comrades in camouflage gear urging him to join them. His bored teenage brother Caner plays with grandpa’s rifle too carelessly, especially around the wild boy Sulu and his ferocious dog. And after drinking too much raki, the lonely widower Nusret gets overly friendly with Mehmet’s wife. The screenplay shifts from character to character as they go their separate ways, creating havoc off-screen before reuniting guiltily around a campfire.

As the film rolls into its second half, it begins to feel too drawn out, like much smoke without fire, and the tension starts to drain away. Only toward the end do three escalating acts of violence precipitate the startling climax, accompanied by an unexpected drum march that turns the ever-present atmosphere of danger into one of plain human folly.

Camerawork shows a lot of finesse in building a menacing atmosphere with simple point of view shots, or just by following the back of an unidentified head as someone stalks through the woods. The film’s dense psychological background and low-key approach raise it above horror schlock, however, aided by a natural landscape that is quite eerie in itself.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Production companies: Bulut Film, Two Thirtyfive
Cast: Tamer Levent, Reha Özcan, Mehmet Özgür, Berk Hakman, Banu Fotocan
Director: Emin Alper
Screenwriter: Emin Alper
Producers: Enis Köstepen, Seyfi Teoman, Nikos Moutselos
Director of photography: George Chiper-Lillemark
Production designer: İsmail Durmaz
Editor: Özcan Vardar
Music: Fatih Aydoğdu
No rating, 94 minutes