'Frenzy' ('Abluka'): Venice Review

Frenzy Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

Frenzy Still - H 2015

A fascinating but increasingly frustrating tale of two brothers.

Turkish actors Mehmet Ozgur and Berkay Ates play two brothers in Istanbul in the second feature from Turkish filmmaker Emin Alper ('Beyond the Hill').

Two siblings try to survive in an increasingly dystopian Istanbul in Frenzy (Abluka), the second feature from Turkish writer-director Emin Alper. To a large extent, this impressively staged drama is a big-city variation on Alper’s hinterland-set, award-winning first feature, Beyond the Hill, which looked at a small family trying to shift the blame for all sorts of things onto unseen “others,” supposedly in the titular location. Here, two brothers are charged with ridding the city of unwarranted elements, though their work interferes with their fragile fraternal bond that risks being consumed by violence and paranoia from both within themselves and from those around them. Though a tad too long and too cryptic in its home stretch to sustain audience interest throughout, this is nonetheless an exciting second work from what’s looking more and more like an interesting new voice in Turkish cinema.

Both of Alper’s films contrast family structures with society and the outside world at large, though because Frenzy is set in a metropolis and its outskirts and not in the countryside, the stakes are raised and the impact of the decisions seems bigger since they could potentially affect more people. And it seems that the threat has at least already partially arrived in Istanbul, which is occasionally rocked by explosions and where neighborhoods are being sealed off one by one. 

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Into this chaos, elder brother Kadir (Mehmet Uzgur, from Beyond the Hill) finds himself when he’s suddenly released from jail two years early, on the condition that he becomes a special kind of garbage man who works for the government. His job will be to literally sniff out the contents of trashcans for potential explosives or other materials that terrorists could be using to make bombs.

Since he was locked away for 20 years, it is no surprise that his younger brother, Ahmet (Berkey Ates), who’s still under 30, doesn’t immediately recognize him when he turns up at his doorstep. Ahmet doesn’t work for the government but for the city, though he also helps to keep the streets clean, so to speak, killing stray dogs. Clearly, the animals could be read as a metaphor for the terrorists that seem to be slowly taking over the city, and the myriad ways in which Alper, who also wrote the screenplay, suggests how the men are similar, how they differ and in which ways their world says something about ours is part of the pleasure of watching this complex and frequently fascinating story unfold.

Things often don’t play out as expected. Though there are no signs of real childhood traumas between the two, Ahmet doesn’t seem thrilled to have Kadir back in his life and seems annoyed by his frequent visits to the point of starting to pretend he’s not at home. Indeed, he’s something of a loner and even Ahmet himself seems surprised when he strikes up a friendship with a black mutt who’s been wounded. Consumed with a need to fill his days now that he’s out of jail, Kader throws himself into his work a little too enthusiastically, hoping to please his stern boss (Mufit Kayacan) by filing endless reports on all sorts of “suspicious activities” of people in the neighborhood. Interesting paradoxes abound here, as Ahmet kills dogs by day (for money) but takes care of one by night (for company), while Kader’s reports suggest how surveillance might end being compromised by too careful scrutiny, which might reveal threats and conspiracies where there’s really just (sometimes admittedly odd or not immediately understandable) human behavior.

As the film progresses, and again like in Beyond the Hill, some footage that is divorced from the real world in which the story is set worms its way into editor Osman Bayraktaroglu's increasingly intricate timeline. Some of these might be subjective point-of-view shots, or dreams, nightmares or hallucinations. They are occasionally more problematic to identify here, since the film’s real world isn’t as clearly defined, with Istanbul really seeming to be in the grip of increasing chaos and paranoia (as quite often in Turkish films, including those of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the landscape -- or here, cityscape -- can be read as a projection of the characters' psychology). Some scenes are also revisited several times from the perspective of different characters, further adding to the confusion. Since practically all of the film’s second hour consists of scenes that could potentially be questioned, what made Frenzy initially so intriguing ends up making it rather heavy and increasingly hard to follow.

That said, the acting is top-notch, with Uzgur providing his character with a mixture of world-weariness and a necessity to please and be distracted, while Ates’s Ahmet, with those huge, sad eyes, slowly seems to transform himself into a human with suspiciously canine traits. They are ably supported by a small ensemble and superb craft contributions, including Adam Jandrup’s crystalline cinematography with its Vermeer-like lighting for some of the daytime interior scenes. Also of note is the standout work of production designer Ismail Durmaz’ and especially his exterior locations, which impressively suggest that a major metropolis is falling prey to madness and anarchy with relatively few but very effective means (some shoddy CGI work in the cityscapes notwithstanding). Crisp if sometimes pounding sound work and Cevdet Erek's ditto percussion score complete the package. 

Production companies: Liman Film, Paprika Films, Insignia Yapim

Cast: Mehmet Uzgur, Berkay Ates, Tulin Ozen, Mufit Kayacan, Ozan Akbara, Fatih Sevdi, Mustafa Kirantepe

Writer-Director: Emin Alper

Producers: Nadir Operli, Enis Kostepen, Cem Doruk

Co-producers: Laurent Baujard, Dorul Acar, Ture KarahanPierre-Emmanuel Fleurentin

Director of photography: Adam Jandrup

Production designer: Ismail Durmaz

Costume designer: Nurten Tinel

Editor: Osman Bayraktaroglu

Music: Cevdet Erek

Casting: Ezgi Baltas

Sales: The Match Factory


No rating, 119 minutes