Mold (Küf): Venice Review

Molasses-paced Turkish debut adheres too closely to established modes of art-cinema storytelling.

Ercan Kesal and Muhammet Uzuner star in writer-director Ali Aydin's debut feature, a Turkish-German co-production examining issues of loss, grief and guilt.

VENICE - A textbook example of how international art-cinema has somehow come to equate slowness with profundity, Turkish patience-taxer Mold (Küf) is a static, by-the-numbers debut feature from 31-year-old writer-director Ali Aydin. Co-produced with Germany, this study of an introverted middle-aged railroad worker was picked up for Italian distribution by Nanni Moretti's company Sacher Film days before its Critics' Week bow at Venice. But it's essentially festivals-only fare, with little chance of emulating such breakout Turkish delights as Nuri Bilge Ceylan's masterfully sedate Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from last year.

As played by three-time Ceylan collaborator Ercan Kesal, Basri Aydin is a 55-year-old widower nearing retirement from a job checking the condition of rural railroad tracks. Shadowed by death since birth and even beyond, Basri has evidently never recovered from the disappearance of his student son Seyfi in Istanbul some 18 years before. While Ercan is apathetically apolitical, never even having once voted, Seyfi was deeply involved in anti-government protests, it seems likely that his fate was tied up with wider social upheavals of the 1990s.

Basri regularly writes letters about Seyfi's case to the authorities, these missives eventually bringing him into contact with Murat, a world-weary police-inspector played by Anatolia's spellbinding lead Muhammet Uzuner. But Aydin isn't interested in exploring this intriguing relationship. Instead, what passes for 'drama' here chiefly concerns Basri's frictions with younger co-worker Cemil (Tansu Biçer), a drunken, lecherous, troublemaking sad-sack whose beef with his senior colleague is never explained.

Slim in its narrative and opaquely elusive in its all-too-evident philosophical ambitions, Mold holds a modicum of interest if taken primarily as a character-study of the taciturn, withdrawn Basri and as a showcase for some committedly dour performances. "Just what kind of a man are you?" asks Murat during an interview near the start that drags on and on for nearly a quarter of an hour, most of that time filled with pregnant pauses and meaningful stares as Murat Tuncel's tripod-mounted camera looks on unmoving, unblinking.

Despite his ambulatory profession and dogged letter-writing, Basri is the "kind of man" defined by his stoic passivity, which in the picture's most tense and effective scene yields dire consequences for a secondary character. In this sequence Aydin shows flashes of promising talent, and in conjunction with Tuncel he crafts some elegantly-framed compositions elsewhere, often featuring spectacular and untenanted corners of the Anatolian hinterland. On balance there's enough here to suggest that Aydin might perhaps go on to more distinctive and individually expressive work next time.

Here, however, he's content to dutifully plod along in what's become the default mode of cinematic expression for serious-minded film-makers worldwide, right down to his enigmatically oblique choice of title. Then again, if said moniker was actually intended to evoke the proverbially dull activity of watching cheese decay, the cap fits all too well.


Venue: Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), September 2, 2012.
Production companies: Motiva Film, Beleza Film
Cast: Ercan Kesal, Muhammet Uzuner, Tansu Biçer
Director / Screenwriter: Ali Aydin
Producers: Cengiz Keten, Sevil Demirci, Gökçe Işil Tuna, Ali Aydın
Co-producers: Falk Nagel, Jessica Landt
Director of photography: Murat Tuncel
Editors: Ayhan Ergürsel, Ahmet Boyacioglu

Sales agent: MPM Film, Paris
No MPAA rating, 94 minutes