Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lifelong (Hayatboyu)

LIFELONG (Hayatboyu)         B-      
Turkey  Germany  Netherlands  (102 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Asli Özge       Website

Continuing in the Turkish tradition of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who receives a debt of thanks in the end credits, this is a stylistically modern film, beautifully shot by Emre Erkmen, where the centerpiece of the film is not the characters themselves, but the home they inhabit.  The Architectural Digest style home was built by Turkish architect Hayriye Ozel, which features a multi-story glass home with a winding staircase down the middle, producing a Vertigo (1958) effect.  The home is situated in Nisantasi, the upscale neighborhood of Istanbul, where its stark appearance may as well be the leading character in the film, as it’s cool and sleek, stocked with all the latest gadgetry, where it continuously looks so impressively clean and sterile, and is such an impressive museum piece that it’s a shame people actually have to live there.  Can (Hakan Çimenser) is the 50-year old successful architect who supposedly designed his own home, while his wife Ela (Defne Halman) has an art studio on the first floor.  The only way up is via the staircase, where feet produce a clanging sound of metal that resounds throughout the house.  Early on, Ela has the home phone bugged, as she suspects her husband is cheating on her.  The film is largely an exposé on the deteriorating state of their marriage, owing a great debt to early 60’s Antonioni films like RED DESERT (1964), which similarly uses modern architecture juxtaposed against spectacularly hand-colored industrial landscapes to express the neurosis and psychological alienation of the lead character.  But while Antonioni had one of the great modern actresses in Monica Vitti, Özge’s disengaged and overly detached characters are largely inert, expressing boredom and ennui throughout, where luxury and wealth apparently have taken the starch out of their humanity.

Ela is a peculiar one, as her secret ways and pained facial expressions, often showing no expression at all, are reminiscent of Ulrich Mühe as a 1980’s East German Stasi agent in THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006), where it could be the face of a secret agent or spy, as she can listen in on phone conversations and not be detected, or it could be the result of harsh treatment, including behind-the-scenes police torture.  It comes as something of a surprise that the cause of such personal anguish is simply marriage, especially when both are successful enough, career-wise, to work on artistic projects of their own choosing, which allows for a great deal of self expression.  Can, however, is an opinionated and overbearing husband with a self-righteous streak that can get on anybody’s nerves, as he has to have things exactly his way or everyone else is wrong.  It should not be surprising that neither one of these lead characters evoke much sympathy, and therein lies the heart of the problem.  With no emotional or dramatic connection to anyone in the film, it’s largely a stylistic exhibition.  They have an idealistic college age daughter (Gizem Akman) that Ela favors, often bringing a smile to her face, but she’s equally spoiled and pampered, used to having the best of everything given to her by her parents.  These fractured lives express an inexplicable emptiness, as wealth does not necessitate happiness, where instead they largely avoid one another and never have long conversations about anything, even art, or speak of anything of significance, as they’ve become strangers where they’re simply too impatient to even try, leaving long periods with no dialogue, where the film offers next to no explanation for the root of their problems, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions. 

Written, directed and edited by Özge, who was born in Istanbul but lived in Berlin for more than ten years, the film does offer a portrait of a successful woman in the middle-age period of her life, where the male dominated, patriarchal effects of an Islamic society are largely unseen, but perhaps felt in Ela’s constant doubts about herself.  Even after a successful art exhibition, an interpersonal light show where the audience follows Can as he immerses himself in the ghostly color effect on bodies walking about, turned into mere shadows, as if in a cloud, where her husband is impressed with her work, she remains plagued by the negative comments received from her own daughter at the breakfast table the next morning, asking why doesn’t she design things people would want to hang on their walls?  This has to infuriorate her, as she’s most likely used to hearing that kind of comment from shallow art connoisseurs, but from her favorite child, the one offered the best education money can buy?  This has to hurt.  While there are abrupt moments when Ela insists she’s looking for her own apartment, supposedly leaving her husband, the next thing we see is her husband by her side claiming they are searching for an art studio.  Who knows what they’re really up to?  The issue is never really resolved, as they continue to avoid one another by each claiming their own separate floor to inhabit in their home-made castle, making it easy to avoid one another, though an apartment is chosen, an act that amusingly bears a resemblance to Antoine Doinel in Antoine and Colette (1962).  This is a couple that makes up their mind by never making up their minds, as the movie plods along at a glacier pace showing precious little interaction, where little to nothing happens, but the look of the film is impressive.  The austere tone and artistic set design are so spectacular that even with a subtext of dull and insufferably boring lives, the film deserves merit.    

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