Yozgat Blues: Istanbul Review
Mahmut Fazil Coskun's film, which received its world premiere in Istanbul, follows a city slicker forced to relocate to the provinces.
The story of a city slicker forced to relocate to the provinces has been retold many times, in many different countries. Yozgat Blues, one of the Turkish movies receiving its world premiere at the Istanbul Film Festival, discovers a tasty variation on this well worn theme. Yuvaz (Ercan Kesal) is a music teacher in Istanbul who also performs occasionally as a musician. When a performing gig is offered to him in a city in the middle of the country, he decides to seize the opportunity, even though he is reluctant to trade the stimulation of the big city for life in a more remote outpost.
Nothing quite works out as he hopes, but he does make some satisfying human connections in the town of Yozgat. Even though the story is universal, the details are probably too Anatolian to imagine much of a release for this movie outside Turkey. But it will win some nice reviews when it plays at other festivals around the world.
Although Yuvaz is the protagonist, the film turns out to be a group portrait of half a dozen people whose lives intersect with his in Yozgat. Nese (Ayca Damgaci), his singing partner, develops an attachment to Sabri (Tansu Bicer), the barber who helps the balding Yuvaz with the toupee he wears while performing. The nightclub owner and a local radio host also become part of the ensemble as this shaggy dog tale unfolds. Istanbul audiences roared at droll comic touches that probably won’t translate as well to audiences in other parts of the world. But the characters and relationships are incisively drawn, and the film’s deadpan sense of humor tickles.
One disappointment of the movie is that it relies heavily on close-ups and gives us very little of the atmosphere in this section of the country. (Yozgat seems to be the Turkish equivalent of Tulsa or Des Moines.) That might be the point the director was trying to make, but the film still could have benefited from a sharper sense of the locale. In addition, the humor and pathos are both a little too low-key to register vividly. On the other hand, the performers make the most of the wry material. Kesal gives a sympathetic performance as Yuvaz, and the plump but attractive Damgaci plays nicely against Hollywood images of women. Bicer is equally engaging as the sheltered barber who still lives with his grandmother. At the beginning he's set up on a date with a religious Muslim woman who is not as demure as her traditional garb suggests. She proves to be far too opinionated for Sabri, and he forges an easier connection with Nese, though this frustrates Yuvaz’s unspoken hopes for their relationship.
The nightclub scenes capture the humiliations of performers forced to entertain bored audiences, and Yuvaz’s financial difficulties will resonate with aspiring actors or singers anywhere in the world. While some of the characters achieve a happy ending that they were not expecting, Yuvaz’s future is far more uncertain. Despite its uneven script and direction, Yozgat Blues succeeds in capturing a bittersweet mood that will haunt viewers.
Venue: Istanbul Film Festival.
Cast: Ercan Kesal, Ayca Damgaci, Tansu Bicer, Nadir Saribacak, Kevork Malikyan.
Director: Mahmut Fazil Coskun.
Screenwriters: Tarik Tufan, Mahmut Fazil Coskun.
Producer: Halil Kardas.
Executive producer: Catharina Schreckenberg.
Director of photography: Baris Ozbicer.
Art director: Osman Ozcan.
Editor: Cicek Kahraman.
No rating, 96 minutes.