Lifelong (Hayatboyu): Berlin Review

Lifelong Hayatboyu - H 2013

Lifelong Hayatboyu - H 2013

Tightly crafted Turkish drama is often too taciturn for its own good.

Asli Ozge's second feature follows a troubled bourgeois couple in modern-day Istanbul.

BERLIN -- A minimalist study of modern bourgeois malaise, Asli Ozge’s sophomore feature, Lifelong (Hayatboyu), portrays a middle-aged Turkish couple’s gradual slide towards oblivion via the breakdown of a thwarted spouse. Perfectly brewed for the latte-sipping set, this beautifully lensed and artfully acted drama is also too much of a one-note affair, its emotional tension diffused by a slow-burn story that veers into heavy-handedness without ever feeling truly original. Still, as a snapshot of alienated Istanbul upper-crusters -- and one that recalls Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates -- this pure art-house item could see a longish life on the fest circuit and scattered European bookings.

Extremely well crafted from an aesthetic standpoint, but lacking vitality in the narrative department, writer-director Ozge’s latest effort, after her well-regarded 2009 debut, Men on the Bridge, follows the travails of contemporary artist, Ela (Defne Halman) and her architect husband, Can (Hakan Cimenser), as they come to terms with a long-term relationship that’s clearly lost its spark.

At least that seems to be the case for Can, who Ela suspects of cheating early on -- a suspicion soon confirmed when she eavesdrops on one of his “business calls.” Thrown into marital disarray while at the same time prepping her next exhibition, Ela tries to cope with her professional duties and save face in front of her husband, friends and daughter (Gizam Akman), whose budding relationship with an archeologist (Onur Dikmen) only underscores her parents’ crumbling marriage.

Filmed in austere widescreen compositions by D.P. Emre Erkmen and set predominantly in a cold, modernist house that serves to further isolate the couple, Lifelong is reminiscent of such angst-ridden conjugal portraits as Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte or Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, although it rarely packs their dramatic punch and often crawls ahead at a snail’s pace, which makes the 110-minute running time seem excessive.

Yet despite the bare-bones plot, sluggish rhythm and rather predictable denouement, Ozge does offer up a convincing glimpse into a side of Turkish life rarely seen on screens -- one in which human warmth is stifled by a backdrop of design catalogues, MacBooks, Nespresso machines and granite countertops. Although Can and Ela live in Istanbul, they could really be living in any big city, and the latter’s failure to confront her husband -- a failure that eventually provokes her breakdown -- seems to be less a question of local culture than of social class, with the couple striving to maintain their image at all costs.

In her first major screen role, New York-raised theatre actress Halman does a fine job depicting Ela’s declining emotional states with only a few spare dialogues. It’s a nice little piece of restraint, as is the performance by Cimenser (also making his movie debut), even if their characters’ monumental failure to communicate tends to grow irritating as the story wears on.

Featured within the upscale decors are several original installations created for the movie, as well as pieces by artists ranging from Turkish avant-garde filmmaker Kutlug Ataman to contemporary video maestro Bill Viola.

Production companies: Bulut Film, Sodamedya Interactive, Razor Film, Augustus Films, Kaliber Film, The Post Republic

Cast: Defne Halman, Hakan Cimenser, Gizem Akman, Onur Dikmen

Director, screenwriter: Asli Ozge

Producer: Nadir Operli

Director of photography: Emre Erkmen

Production designer: Yesim Bakirkure

Costume designer: Nahide Buyukkaymakci

Editors: Neus Ballus, Domi Parra

Sales Agent: Films Boutique

No rating, 108 minutes