‘Blue Bicycle’ (‘Mavi Bisiklet’): Film Review | Antalya Film Festival 2016

Blue Bicycle - Still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of Antalya Film Festival
A tale of childhood rebellion set against a stifling political backdrop.

Director Umit Koreken portrays a young boy fighting the hypocrisy of his tiny Turkish village in this competition selection from the Antalya Film Festival.

A hard-knocks coming-of-age drama filled with sharp political undertones, Blue Bicycle (Mavi Bisiklet) marks a solid debut from Turkish director Umit Koreken, who focuses his camera on a 12-year-old boy fighting poverty and injustice however he can.

Set in a remote mountain village in Central Anatolia, the film weaves an intriguing plot out of local corruption and schoolboy rivalries, portraying a world where people have few available options if the powers that be are not behind them. After screening last winter in Berlin’s Generation section and premiering locally at the Antalya Film Festival, Blue Bicycle could find scattered bookings in Europe and additional fest berths abroad.

The endearing Ali (Selim Kaya) is a quiet kid who’s been dealt a tough hand in life: His father recently died under mysterious circumstances — there’s a trial currently underway — and his mother can barely scrape by weaving dresses in their tiny home. To make ends meet, Ali works afterschool as an auto mechanic, contributing to his household’s meager income while trying to save enough to buy the prized bicycle of the film’s title.

Ali’s other main interest is Elif (Bahriye Arin), a girl in his class he’s secretly in love with, and who’s been chosen by the school principal (Fatih Koca) to be the “head prefect,” which is sort of the Turkish equivalent of valedictorian. But when a new student (Burak Vurdumduymaz) moves to town and, thanks to his uncle’s powerful position, winds up taking Elif’s place, Ali decides that he won’t let that happen so easily, enlisting his cousin Yusuf (Eray Kilicarslan) to start an underground campaign that will reinstate Elif in the school's top slot.

Co-written by the helmer and producer Nursen Cetin Koreken, the script skillfully chronicles Ali’s growing rebellion against the numbing atmosphere of his village, which is shown to be a place where everyone seems to accept hypocrisy as a way of life. There are obvious winks to the current situation in Turkey, where the regime in power has been known to silence those accusing it of corruption and cronyism. In fact, the school principal often feels like a stand-in for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself, cracking down on those who question his authority with an iron fist. (One memorable scene has him inspecting his students’ handwriting to try and match it with pro-Elif graffiti, making them line up outside in the cold as if they were awaiting a brutal military trial.)

While the film intelligently portrays Ali’s predicament as part and parcel of Turkey’s greater political climate, it sometimes feels a bit clumsy in the way it delves out plot points and doesn’t always build up the drama in convincing ways. But Koreken does manage to coax strong performances out of his young cast, with Kaya truly touching as a boy who resists the forces constantly weighing upon him — whether from adults or kids his own age — hoping to find a smudge of happiness amid his harsh surroundings.

Tech credits for this Turkey-Germany co-production are pro if purposely gritty, especially camerawork by Niklas Lindschau that captures the mud-strewn streets and rudimentary accommodations of Ali’s hometown.

Venue: Antalya Film Festival
Production companies: Drama Film Produksiyon, Papermoon Films
Cast: Selim Kaya, Eray Klincarslan, Bahriye Arin, Katya Shenkova, Fatih Koca
Director: Umit Koreken
Screenwriters-producers: Umit Koreken, Nursen Cetin Koreken
Director of photography: Niklas Lindschau
Production designer: Mehmet Erenkaya
Costume designer: Selin Fidanci
Editor: Ali Aga
Composer: Cafer Ozan Turkyilmaz
Casting director: Nursen Cetin Koreken
Sales: Attraction Distribution

In Turkish

Not rated, 93 minutes