Monday, 9 March 2009

[155] Alone (Issiz Adam, 2008) Review

It is always interesting to see how a culture is reflected in its films. This is especially true in the more mainstream, popular flicks that fill out the top end of the highest-grossing lists year after year, the cookie-cutter movies that cast their net wide, and don't dabble in precious, art-house posturing. I recently had the opportunity to see such a film from Turkey.

Alone (Issiz Adam) was a huge hit in its native country, reaching an audience of almost 3 million. It is, at its heart, a love story described in the promotional poster as 'controversial' and 'poignant'. For its own country, the film reportedly ruffled feathers and provoked tears in equal measure, but it is a somewhat flawed, one-step-forward-two-steps-back achievement when thrust onto the international stage.

Set in the glistening Turkish capital of Istanbul, Alone presents itself as a thoroughly modern urban film. Alper (Cemal Hunal), the male protagonist, is a successful chef, and owner of a high-class restaurant. He spends his days cooking, and nights going to clubs and hiring prostitutes. His passions are food and music, and while perusing a second hand bookshop's collection of LPs, comes across the radiantly beautiful 20-something Ada (Melis Birkan). The film frolicks along for its first hour or so as a mostly predictable, generic romantic comedy, as Alper pursues the initially stubborn, but progressively relenting Ada. He buys her a book, she buys him a record. He cooks for her, she rejects his advances (but, really, she wants it).

It is typical Richard Curtis stuff, full of serendipity, exaggerated supporting characters and longing glances. However, the innocence of this light comedy is submerged in a distinct obsession with the modern and the fashionable. The film is almost fetishistic in its display of iPhones, flashy cars and spacious apartments. Each scene is shot with a lavish decadence, with locations scouted and contexts conspired to present Istanbul as if in a tourism promo.

Indeed, tourism features in a more concrete level of the film, as Alper's mother (Yildiz Kültür) visits from her rural village, and is wowed by the metropolis and its many delights. This accompanies an acute, even jarring shift in the film's tone towards something much more quiet and dramatic. In its second half, Alone becomes a family drama, full of buried emotions, tense silences and conflicts of values. Here, director-writer Çağan Irmak attempts to bring much depth and thematic weight to the narrative, but the lightness of the film's opening mismanages the darkness in Alper's character (his empty, kinky sex and abusive tendencies are not explored, but rather pushed under the rug). Therefore, his shift from doting lover to distant emotional recluse is ineffective and puzzling. There are scenes with potential, however, especially one eruption of repressed frustration at a meal with his mother, but this seriousness feels messy, ungraceful and heavy-handed.

The film shirks complexity and conflict for easy, sentimental resolution. Alper is painted, through contrived expository dialogue, as a damaged soul - lonely and chronically depressed in his urban life. He rejects the safety of the romantic relationship in favour of 'freedom'. Ada, a victim in this game of shifting sympathies, is reduced to tears and discarded. This would be a suitable conclusion in itself, but Irmak inserts a coda, set years later, where a regretful Alper has thrown himself into life as a surrogate uncle for one of his employee's sons. One day, he has a chance encounter with Ada, now married and living in the UK. This addition effectively locks down the story, and is presented in such an expressive mode that little is left unspoken - even the thoughts of the two former lovers are overlaid as voice-over tracks. It is a tear-jerking conclusion, but it is over-the-top and a little exploitative.

Alone is a schizoid film, part When Harry Met Sally, part Annie Hall. It attempts to be strident in its portrayal of 21st Century life and romance, but ends up being contrived, stagy and a little conservative. Fulfillment and peace are only found in accepted family-based structures. Early in the film, a little girl enters Ada's fancy dress shop, and asks for a cowboy outfit. This interrogation of gender norms, initially intriguing, turns out to be a red herring, as Ada can only move on from Alper into wife- and motherhood. Not that either roles are truly backward, or that urban life is all lovely, but Irmak's Alone feels too much like a mix of popcorn fluff and a half-written manifesto, with all of the sentiment of the former, and lacking the commentary and depth of the latter.

Alone will have a limited release, with screenings at the Odeons Panton Street, Lee Valley, Holloway and Whiteleys in London from March 13th. For more information, see


edoras said...

As a Turkish person, I don't agree with that the film "is submerged in a distinct obsession with the modern and the fashionable" and that "The film is almost fetishistic in its display of iPhones, flashy cars and spacious apartments." Have you ever been in Turkey? I think not. I am just tired of people seeing Istanbul as a third world city, isolated from other parts of the world, full of belly dancers and uneducated people. You know what? (Here comes the great shock..) We also use technology here! :) (ok, not as much as in the USA, I can clearly say that) There is a huge fanatism for iPhone here to make me sick of that phone already (despite the fact that I like Apple products). So it is not a big surprise to see Alper having one. I don't even know what to say about the spacious apartments part, I am just too surprised to read that :)

Yes, there are Turkish films which clearly intend to show the beauty of Istanbul (You may try Organize Isler by Yilmaz Erdogan to see an example). When I watch these films I say "Bah, here is another film with inferiority complex". That wasn't what I thought while watching Issiz Adam, because I think the Istanbul in the film is pretty similar to the original one. However I thought "God, this film is a huge disappointment for me! What a cliché!" and I am still in favour of this view of mine.

*btw, I am talking about Istanbul here. especially the eastern part of Turkey has a lower education level and a more isolated life style(comparing with Istanbul) and if the film was shot there, showing people holding iPhones; I would totally agree with you.

Omer Durun said...

Excellent criticism! I am from Turkey as well, and unfortunately I can tell you that, most of your criticisms are very much representative of the modern popular Turkish cinema. Especially, the lack of discipline and consistency in character and scenario development is very disappointing. Sometimes that comes from a place of pure laziness of the screenwriter/director, other times from a certain lack of sincerity, but most of the time, just like in this movie a sad combination of both. As you very well expressed, the director does attempt to explore some interesting topics which, if he had the guts to go the length,
might have turned out interesting results...On the other hand, he doesn't have the guts to do a light hearted movie
either, and instead we have this crazy amalgamation of
romantic comedy tones mixed up with heavy societal
topics, and the obsession of the Turkish upper middle
class-just like edoras here, to show to the world that we
are not a "3rd world country" and then we also end up with
overwhelming and out of context stylistic overtones...

The Turkish upper middle class, aka "the whiteTurks" lives in a bubble, which causes serious errors of judgment in how they perceive the overall society, and this gets reflected into the creative fields, in the form of mediocre body of work.
The contemporary Turkish society is a "bona fide"
consumerist society. It tends to express it's affiliation to
modernity through iPhone rather than " producing" i.e. in
it's every sense, e.g. industrial, business, intellectual and of

course cultural.

Srabon said...

as a Bangladeshi .... Turkey is much developed country . .... And istanbul is a very beautiful and big city of the world ....
i am coming to istanbul next year :)

Unknown said...

Turkey's capital is not Istanbul. You should learn about before write. Turkey's capital is Ankara...