Seaburners (Kumun tadi): Berlin Review

seaburners Berlin Film Festival - H 2014

seaburners Berlin Film Festival - H 2014

A first film that evokes a strong sense of place but has only a thin smear of narrative.

Croatian actress Mira Furlan stars alongside Timucin Esen in Turkish director Melisa Onel's debut film.

BERLIN -- A foreign female botanist and a disillusioned Turkish man who recently returned home after working abroad find solace -- mostly of the carnal variety -- in each other in Seaburners (Kumun tadi), the austere and self-consciously arty debut from Turkish director Melisa Onel.

The director’s clearly got an eye for cinematic visuals and the way images and sounds can amplify each other, though the very thin smear of narrative that Onel stretches out over the film’s almost 90 minutes will test the patience of even a part of the regular arthouse crowd. Set on the bleak Black Sea coast during winter, the film stars local actor Timucin Esen (Lovelorn) and Croatian actress Mira Furlan (Lost, Babylon 5) and their believable, almost wordless push-pull chemistry should help ensure the film finds at least some traction on the festival circuit.

The film’s opening shot is ravishing and enigmatic in equal measures -- and, much later, turns out to be a flashforward to the film’s home stretch -- as the camera rushes forward on a wintry beach, close to the surf, heading straight for the shape of a soaked human male in dark clothing, lying on the sand as if recently washed ashore.

The film then cuts to black before the narrative proper, or what little scraps of story there are, start to unfold in hushed, quietly observed scenes that audiences will have to scrape for bits of information. It thus slowly emerges that Hamit (Esen) has returned to a menial job producing charcoal somewhere in the Turkish countryside and has not only taken his old job again but has phoned Denise (Mira Furlan), whom he meets at night at a seaside cottage that belongs to his boss and for which, each time he needs the place, he needs to negotiate with a junior colleague from work (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) who’s weary to hand over the keys and these scenes are as action-packed as it gets in the first hour.

Denise and Hamit, who communicate in English (she’s a foreigner doing botany experiments in a nearby swamp), seem quite content to let their bodies work harder than their voices. There’s a sense that whatever necessary verbal exchanges they might have had are actually lost in ellipses caused by editor Ozcan Vardar and the director’s preference to let the images do almost all of the talking.

The plot thickens, though it never risks coming close to solidifying, when it becomes clear that Hamit supplements his income with another activity that he wants Denise to know nothing about. It’s then just a matter of a few lengthy, contemplative shots for things to then go terribly haywire.

The work of talented Bulgarian cinematographer Julian Atanassov, who shot his compatriot Kamen Kalev’s Eastern Plays and The Island, and local director of photography Meryem Yavuz, give the film an atmospheric look that suggests the landscape is damp, cold and unforgiving. Paired with the film’s outstanding soundwork, it evokes a distinctly visceral sense of place paired with a sense of entrapment and stagnancy that are borne out by what little story there is.

The sense of place and emotion being almost forcefully tied together will linger for much longer than the characters, who turn out to be ciphers who talk little and about whom even less is explained, even though, to the director's credit, there is a distinct sense that their destiny is tied to the place where they’ve chosen to lead their lives.  

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)

Production companies: Bulut Film, Yedi Film
Cast: Mira Furlan, Timucin Esen, Ahmet Rifat Sungar, Sanem Oge, Uzunyilmaz Ali, Edanur Tekin, Hakan Karsak, Selen Ucer
Director: Melisa Onel
Screenwriters: Melisa Onel, Feride Cicekoglu
Producers: Yamac Okur, Asli Erdem
Directors of photography: Julian Atanassov, Meryem Yavuz
Production designer: Ismail Durmaz
Music: Erdem Helvacioglu
Costume designer: Yunus Harani
Editor: Ozcan Vardar
No rating, 89 minutes.