Zephyr -- Film Review

A mood piece about a troubled preteen girl that takes an unnecessarily meandering course to its startling conclusion.

For her feature debut, Turkish writer-director Belma Bas situates a slip of a story in the foothills of the Eastern Black Sea Mountains.

She builds her story in the small details of a young girl's summer spent with grandparents as she watches crawling insects and butterflies, buries dead creatures, plays with a neighbor's boy and searches for a missing cow. On whatever aesthetic grounds a filmmaker can justify unfolding a drama through such trifling activity, it does make for a fairly mind-numbing sit until the story finally works up a strong conflict between a mother and daughter.

Naturally, this film is purely film festival fodder, with little hope for theatrical exposure in other venues. Its slow pace even mitigates against much success in European television, its most likely final destination.

As Zephyr (Seyma Uzunlar) meanders in the woods and hills surrounding her grandparents' home, she keeps constant watch on the road leading into the village. She is waiting for her mother, her grandparents tell everyone. When her mom (Vehide Gordum) does appear, she is strangely unresponsive to her daughter's outpouring of love. Not resistant, mind you, just rather matter-of-fact about it.

Then the mother lets drop her big announcement. She has accepted a "mission" that will take her away for a long time. The mission is never fully explained, but the obvious message is that Zephyr will be raised by her grandparents. She already lacks a father for some unknown reason -- Bas is apparently one of those filmmakers who hates to explain things -- so this is an emotional blow to the young girl.

Yet her mother remains oblivious to the psychological damage she is causing her daughter. You suspect though that even full acknowledgment of that damage would not dissuade the mother from her "mission."

There is never any real discussion between daughter and mother over this issue. Rather, Bas delays this confrontation until the morning of the mother's departure in order to arrive at a startling climax. Indeed, Bas' strategy throughout the movie is that of delays. She diverts her film into all sorts of tangential activity, such as mushroom foraging and a local music festival.

Young Seyma Uzunlar is quite good at playing the strong-willed yet insecure girl. She hasn't learned yet how to dispute with elders or make her feelings known. Perhaps in her casual study of nature -- all those insects and butterflies -- she is searching for answers.

But Bas isn't a mature enough filmmaker to turn these visual devices into cinematic storytelling. Rather, she provokes tedium rather than curiosity in her audience because of her failure to link the film's activities with the inner life of her young heroine.

Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival
Production companies: FiLMiK Produksiyon/FC Instanbul
Cast: Seyma Uzunlar, Vehide Gordum, Sevinc Bas, O. Rustu Bas, Fatma Uzunlar
Director-screenwriter-editor: Belma Bas
Producers: Seyhan Kays, Birol Akbaga
Director of photography: Mehmet Y. Zengin
Production designer: Canan Cayir
Costume designer: Nurcan Tatalir
Unrated, 92 minutes