Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SIFF — Kosmos

Every year about this time, the Seattle International Film Festival pretty much takes over cinephilic Seattle for a month or so. This year's festival runs May 19–June 12.

Although the festival proper doesn't begin until the 19th, advance press screenings of selected festival entries began yesterday. And since my Full Series Pass allows me to attend those as well, I managed to sit in on two of yesterday's three press-preview films: Miranda July's The Future and Reha Erdem's Turkish/Bulgarian Kosmos.

So here's the first in an unknown number of bloggish posts on screenings I attend at this year's SIFF.

Turkey/Bulgaria, 2009 (122 minutes)
Director: Reha Erdem
Cast: Sermet Yesil, Türkü Turan, Hakan Altuntas
Awards: Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival 2009 (Best Film, Director, Cinematography)
Official website
SIFF's page

Press blurb:
In this hauntingly beautiful imagining of a mysterious universe, a strange man drifts into a remote snowbound town and disrupts the existence of its inhabitants after rescuing a drowning boy.
Here's another film that clads itself in the garments of magic-realism, though this time with significantly stronger purpose. Kosmos is still ultimately baffling, with characters and scenes and images that have not yet altogether connected into a unified whole for me, although in this case I'm not convinced that's necessarily an issue. Of the two films I'm jotting about here, this is the one that I still roll around in my head trying to see it more clearly. The more I reflect on it, the more I like and admire it. The SIFF programmers have tagged director Reha Erdem as an "Emerging Master," and I believe there's something to that. SIFF will also show his 2006 film, Times and Winds, and based on the intriguing curiosity that is Kosmos it's one for my "check it out" list.

In interesting ways, Kosmos tracks like something out of Kafka. From out of the distance in a vast snowy wasteland, a half-crazed, wild-eyed man (Sermet Yeşil) appears. He seems to be running from somebody or something. In his hand is a wad of cash. Is he a thief (it turns out that he is), and if so, whose money is it? He encounters a village, but before seeking refuge there he saves a drowning boy by fishing him from a rushing river and (apparently) bringing his dead body back to life. For this act the village welcomes him as a special guest.

He speaks sparingly, and then only in biblical crypticisms, and seems to neither sleep nor eat (except for the bowls of sugar lumps at the tavern that has taken him in). He can scale trees as if gravity is a concept that need not concern him. It isn't long before the locals see him as a dervish sent from God. Indeed, other miraculous events at his hands, as well as a rash of robberies in this place that purports to know no crime, upset the townspeople and their village's timeless ... well, not order, exactly. The village shares a border with a nameless enemy, and the constant sound of artillery fire becomes part of the film's moody, effective landscape.

The mysterious stranger tells the people that what he is looking for is love, which he finds in the lovely, raven-haired sister of the boy he saved from drowning. He brings out a nearly feral wildness in her, and together they share a communication of sorts by imitating the eerie, keening calls of birds.

There's some sedate pacing and blunt-object allegorizing (wild dogs red in tooth and claw, cattle in the abattoir, the stranger as a Christ-like figure etc.), plus a jumble of curious elements — the woman from the train, the boy with the illness, the wall-climbing, the chunk of machinery (a rocket? a weapon from the across the border? a spaceship dispatched to take the stranger home or deliver his mail?) that lands like a meteor in the wastes near the village — and I suspect some Bulgarian/Turkish cultural references I'm ill-equipped to decipher or even recognize for what they are.

Nonetheless, the film is gorgeous to look at and listen to (the musical scoring is striking) and peculiar in a curiosity-piquing way that keeps it engaging enough until the stranger (who reveals to the girl that his name is Kosmos) returns running, again a fugitive, to the snowy wilds from whence he came, perhaps (I wonder) to repeat the story again in another village on the other side of all that white.

Music: Fauré, Pavane
Near at hand: Miniature kaleidoscope