I’m Not Him (Ben O Degilim): Rome Review

An intriguing update of a Hitchcock classic that may be too trying for most viewers.

Turkish filmmaker Tayfun Pirselimoglu offers up a unique take on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” in a movie that bowed in competition in Rome.

Best described as a minimalist, deadpan, Turkish-language take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the bluntly titled I’m Not Him (Ben O Deglilim) follows a lonesome 50-year-old man as he starts an affair with a mysterious co-worker, and then slowly -- very, very slowly -- takes on the identity of her imprisoned husband. Despite a grueling 2-hour-plus running time that will be a tough sell outside fests and selected Euro territories, this fifth feature from writer-director Tayfun Pirselimoglu (Hair) can be both clever and surprising, making for a rather bizarre double bill if coupled with the brilliant Hitchcock original.

Kicking off with the kind of pared-down and realistic storytelling reminiscent of work by fellow Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, we’re introduced to Nihat (Ercan Kesal), a cafeteria employee living a mundane existence on the outskirts of Istanbul, and whose sole pleasures seem to be whoring it up with his drunken workmates or, in one overwhelmingly sad moment, nearly masturbating into an open newspaper while he eats dinner and watches television.

But if this looks like just another slice of art house miserablism, the movie soon changes gears when Nihat hooks up with fellow dishwasher, Ayse (Maryam Zaree), doing the deed on her living room couch in a cold, dispatched manner that may have broken the record set by Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown.

Still, the two begin to forge a workable relationship, although one that’s complicated by Ayse’s backstory, which involves an unseen husband serving a 10-year prison sentence. Even more complicated is the fact that Ayse keeps saying how much Nihat reminds her of said hubby, and when we eventually see a photo -- in one of several clever visual nods – they’re clearly dead ringers.

While this all seems harmless, and, considering how Pirselimoglu likes to hold every shot for 15-30 seconds longer than most directors, a bit tedious, things take a very Hitchcockian turn (with nods to Patricia Highsmith) when the couple heads out on a boating trip, and Ayse drowns.

From hereon in, I’m Not Him veers straight into Vertigo territory, with Nihat deciding to steal the identity of Ayse’s locked-up spouse, passing himself off as a dangerous ex-con. Soon after, he runs into Ayse’s double in the street, and the two doppelgangers ultimately come together in ways that mimic the circular structure of the original movie, albeit in a more darkly comic manner.

While the plot may seem confusing, the deliberately slow pacing makes the story comprehensible, if way longer than it needs to be. On top of that, the static HD cinematography of Andreas Sinanos (who shot several films by Theo Angelopoulos) gives everything a heavy and sorrowful feel, although Pirselimoglu still manages to draw two likeable characters out of such an unpleasant setting.

With the camera forever focused on Kesal – who co-wrote and starred in Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and who looks like a cross between the writer Jean Genet and the wrestler George “The Animal” Steele -- this is mostly a one-man show. And while the actor hardly has Jimmy Stewart’s swagger and range, he convincingly portrays a character whose identity crisis seems to have no end.

Although the festival catalogue listed the film’s title as “I Am Not Him,” the print screened in Rome used the more pleasantly sounding “I’m Not Him."

Venue: Rome Film Festival (Competition)

Production companies: Zuzi Film, Arizona Films, Bredok Film Production, Bad Crowd

Cast: Ercan Kesal, Maryam Zaree, Riza Akin, Mehmet Avci

Director, screenwriter: Tayfun Pirselimoglu

Producers: Tayfun Pirselimoglu, Guillaume de Seille, Mustafa Dok, Nikos Moustakas

Director of photography: Andreas Sinanos

Production designer: Natali Yeres

Music: Giorgos Koumendakis

Editor: Ali Aga

Sales agent: Arizona Distribution

No rating, 129 minutes