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Boston Turkish Film Festival 2010

Divine madness rules the ninth annual Turkish Film Festival
By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 17, 2010

IN DARKNESS: Good luck to those hoping to steer a middle course between extremist Islamic rule and right-wing military coups.

In a scene in Çagan Irmak's IN DARKNESS (2009; April 3 at 3 pm), one of several provocative films in this year's Boston Turkish Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, a woman explains to a TV interviewer that her political party is neither for Shari'a — extremist Islamic rule — nor for right-wing military coups. Well, good luck to her. You'd like to think that in times of crisis, people would be drawn to moderation. Instead, they tend to favor the options of insanity, ignorance, and folly. Just look at our own Tea Party bunch. True, sometimes inspired simple-mindedness can, as in the case of Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin, lead to clarity and reconciliation. More often, though, madness ends in chaos and tears.

They don't get any crazier than the title dervish of Reha Erdem's KOSMOS (2009; March 27 at 3:30 pm), who's first seen as a howling dot dashing across a snowfield into an unnamed Everytown, Turkey. In fact, about half of Kosmos's dialogue consists of high-pitched yapping — conversation he shares sometimes with Neptun, the disturbed sister of a boy he saves from drowning. They sound like a pair of Dobermans in heat.

Despite such excesses. the film's odd allegory — which is set in a monochromatic urban wasteland — proves compelling. Kosmos possesses Messianic talents that include the miraculous ability to heal the sick and for some reason, a skill at climbing trees like a squirrel. He also has a knack for doom-laden proverbs that addle his hosts. But his well-intended deeds backfire, confirming his prophetic message that the world is evil and the human race damned.

Things look equally grim in Inan Temelkuran's gripping, if overstylized, BORNOVA, BORNOVA (2009; April 2 at 2:30 pm). Here Salih is the reigning crazy, lording it over the tough Izmir neighborhood of the title, and he's more like Joe Pesci in GoodFellas than Jesus Christ. Naive Hakan, an uneducated former soccer player, idolizes the creep until he learns about something Salih did to Özlem, a girl on whom Hakan has a crush. (In a perverse twist, Hakan gets the information from Murat, the local leftist, who's been forced by the reactionary times to make a living writing online sex fantasies.) In the end, it seems, Hakan has learned more from Salih's madness than the psycho gives him credit for.

Not all the mentally disturbed visionaries in this festival are male — some members of the matriarchy are on shaky ground as well, like the mother suffering from dementia in In Darkness. Nusret, a similarly stricken mother, dominates Yesim Ustaoglu's PANDORA'S BOX (2008; March 25 at 7 pm, with the director present), which is more melodramatic than Irmak's film but equally subversive.

Isolated in her mountain village and forgotten by her fragmented brood, who are preoccupied with their own miseries in Istanbul, Nusret wanders off. Her children track her down, shuffle her to the city, and pass her from one family member to the next. But her presence, as the title suggests, releases a plague of old woes. And interspersed with her memory lapses and her indiscreet peeing on the carpet are observations of startling acuity that jolt the family into awareness, if not reconciliation.

Also acute is Ustaoglu, who will be receiving the festival's Excellence in Turkish Cinema Award. She records with compassionate detachment the internecine politics of the family — which are a microcosm of the politics of the world as a whole.

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