Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

SIFF 2011: Kosmos

Turkey/Bulgaria, 2009; Reha Erdem

From the moment the distant figure of a man approaches out of the foggy whiteness of a snowfield, Kosmos appears to be a movie bent on allegorizing something elemental. Throw in that the stranger’s name is Kosmos, that he will meet and bond with an only slightly less strange young woman named Neptün, and that the film abounds in elaborate flourishes, enigmatic gestures, and not a few aphoristic lines of dialogue. Is it incumbent upon us to suss out what all this means? Does director and co-writer Reha Erdem himself know?

My advice: Don’t worry about it. What matters is that Kosmos, whether metaphysical mystery or a bit of a mess, grabs one’s eyes and interest at the outset and holds them for most of the ensuing two hours. The title character seems to be at the end of his tether as he staggers onto a bluff above the town—looking as if its builders had been staring too long at Escher drawings—where most of the action will play out. (The location is Kars, Turkey.) Yet upon catching sight of a child being swept downriver, this distracted soul plunges into the icy water immediately—well, after stashing a wad of money under a stone—to rescue the kid. This makes him, in the eyes of the townsfolk, “an honored guest as long as you like” … although it doesn’t take long before his eccentric behavior begins inspiring second thoughts about that.

Wherever the town is (no nations are mentioned), it’s a living, breathing, snarling invocation of Balkan quarrels ancient and recent. There’s a more or less steady sound of detonations in the vicinity, perhaps connected to military maneuvers. Members of a family are clamoring to have the authorities settle who gets to inherit Dad’s property—Dad being housed meanwhile in a coffin strapped atop the station wagon the rival relatives are driving around town. A faceless figure keeps breaking into shops, an action almost always followed by the possibly angelic Kosmos performing some kind of very personal miracle for one of the troubled citizenry.

Erdem has a lively eye, and a fine sense of how to tap the potential of every setting—a bridge, an outbuilding, the tables in a café—for cinematic energy. And he has great rapport with geese, their peremptory waddle through the streets and alleys the stuff of Steadicam glory and hilarity. Kosmos is played by Sermet Yesil, a virtual unknown who looks a bit like Johnny Depp on laughing gas. Türkü Turan plays the pretty girl he bonds with, and their courtship entails tender exchanges of Tarzan-like yells. It’s rather charming.

Copyright 2011 Richard T. Jameson