Well Turkish Cinema, which they claim is a now a major world contributor, is coming at us from all sides. Nuri Bilge Ceylan in the festival, Zeki Demirkubuz on DVD and the current Turkish Film Festival.
Tolga Karaçelik’s first feature the 2015 Sarmasik/Ivy is one of the TFF’s most prestigious offerings.
It’s an imposing movie right from the misleading opening montage - the uniformed policeman bleeding on the ground, the praying men turning accusingly, Captain Osman Alkas sitting down to the generous restaurant meal.
In port the freighter is taking on new crewmen - imposing, silent, tall Seyithan Özdemir and petty criminal Nadir Saribacak (intense performance) his face beaten beaten, along with fellow stoner Özgür Emre Yildirim.
Captain Alkas checks the new recruits suspiciously asking for reports from his old hand sailor but he has other problems. No one has been paid for four months, supplies have not been provided and the rumors that the owner is bankrupt prove true. To keep the ship away from creditors who wouldn’t pay the back wages, it has to be moored out of port with a regulation six men on board. They will be the first to be paid, making it attractive to the rootless new recruits. We see a launch taking the rest away.
Normalcy and the chain of command break down as the wait stretches to fifty days. The men have seen all the five movies in the mess room. As the perishables are all consumed, it’s meals of rice and beans and then just rice supplemented by fish caught over the side. The discovery of a hidden salami creates a crisis.
Saribacak leads a refusal to work on the deck crane leaking oil with Captain Alkas telling his newly appointed deputy Kadir Çermik (trusted with the keys to the infirmary with it’s tempting drugs) that when the storm makes the anchor clatter against the ship’s side it’s time to let the chain out. He then complains about the insurgency he didn’t stop. We see Alkas authoritatively snapping the crew back into line using the word “mutiny”, with a hammer thudding against the deck house, as he leaves. He is replaced by Saribacak the most agro crewman. Saribacak later boasts about having stood up to the Captain though he'd folded immediately.
Despite the contemporary setting we are getting into Joseph Conrad and Eugene O’Neill here.
However, Sarmasik rolls through that and comes out the other side. Spooky Özdemir can’t be found even checking the ladder into the eerie empty hull. He seems to be haunting the passageways leaving wet footprints. We get alarming manifestations, including the ivy of the title and a plague of snails which may be shared illusions - or not.
Too long at 104 minutes and dragging in places, this one is still imposing - the cinema’s most plausible account of life on a freighter at sea? The camera mounted on the anchor chain plunges into the ocean, with authentic shots of the roomy, mundane interiors, the English language signage and the empty rusting decks. This striking, sharp, greenish, ‘scope and colour imagery backs the film’s impressive performances.
Karaçelik’s Butterflies is also in the current event.