Sunday 7 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (18) - Max Berghouse reviews Tolga Karacelik's Ivy (Turkey, 2015)

Ivy,(Tolga Karacelik, (Turkey/Germany, 2015) was I think produced in 2014 by a master, Nuri Bilge Ceylan  whose style is at times evident in the film.

The film quite clearly adopts the Aristotelian model of the three act drama. At appropriate intervals the Latin numerals I,II,III appear on the screen in circumstances where dramatically they are not required. Perhaps this is a symbolic identification from a culture which is both European and Asian, of a specific European identity? In any event I can't advance this further.

In general terms Act 1, which in its very languid exposition deploys the style of the producer Ceylan, a disparate group of men is enlisted as crew for a large freighter plying
the eastern Mediterranean. The ship is threatened with being impounded for debt owing to the failure of the owner company. A group of six volunteers, one officer, the Captain and five crew, volunteer to stay aboard until matters like payment of wages and presumably ultimate sale of the ship are resolved. So far, so good.

In Act 2, following a long period of abandonment by both shipowner and ship agent, running short of food and water, bored and hostile to the world, they all begin to break down, each in their different way. Prior rational behaviour for example by the Captain, is subsequently reversed with his denying that he ever gave such instructions in the first place. The latest crewmember, Cenk, already highly committed to low-level drugs and lazy as well, becomes hostile, assertive and dangerous. Each in their own way behaves aberrantly and none of this is signposted. It simply happens and we, like they, have to make the most of the limited information we and they have. This is handled in a quite dramatic fashion, by which I mean it is emotionally challenging, rather than specifically realistic but it is probably the way we would experience the madness of somebody else in real life. Initially we would try to make sense of strange behaviour and only subsequently, come to the conclusion of madness. There is no taking sides on the part of the director. We observe and are left to make our own choices. So I consider this act very well constructed.

In Act 3 matters go over the top with outright violence. It would appear, no more than that, that Cenk, a quite small man has killed another crewmember, Kurd, an absolutely mountainous figure by tipping him overboard. How this can be possibly physically achieved I don't know! Subsequently his "ghost" appears to several other crew members and the proof, as it were, are his wet footsteps trailing through the ship. One crew member is attacked and killed with a very large metal hammer and another, the very timid cook, slashes his veins with a razor. But rather than blood, ivy grows prolifically and luxuriantly from the wounds to entwine itself around the bodies and the ship's walkways. Perhaps of coincidence is that at the very beginning of the film, there is a shot of a Turkish cemetery overgrown with ivy. Perhaps that plant has some symbolic meaning within the Turkic culture.

I found this mixing of styles from the realistic to the surreal both startling and unconvincing. Further, both the deceased subsequently appear to be revived, although wounded and he who was clearly previously dead, an extremely pious Moslem, previously absolutely loyal to the Captain now demands his death. The film then ends. I fear this is all a mystery to me. I suppose this is therefore a negative review of the film and ultimately the climax is very unsatisfactory because there is no way we can work out whether what is happening should be taken as real or as metaphoric within the minds of the characters.

That said Nuri Bilge Ceylan is an acknowledged master of film and one can see little reason for him to be involved with a director who is also the writer unless he perceived it to be of artistic value. In consideration of his prior films, one does not get the impression that he is simply a producer/director "for hire". So on that ground I would encourage viewing the film as long as one had the prior expectation of leaving the theatre, if not dissatisfied, at least perplexed.

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