Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Turkish Film Days ’10: The Breath

The scenery might be striking, but a lonely military outpost perched amid the mountains of southeast Turkey is quite a dangerous posting. However, for the Socialist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorists, the terrain is ideal. Though it scrupulously dodges the underlying ideological conflicts, the Hellish nature of war is depicted with visceral force in Levent Semerci’s The Breath (trailer here), which opened Turkish Film Days last night in the East Village.

Captain Mete and his seasoned troops have been pursuing “The Doctor,” the mysterious mastermind behind a number of PKK attacks along the Iraqi border. Having just lost two men in a brutal ambush, the officer is not in a forgiving mood. So when he arrives at the remote military base only to discover the soldiers on watch duty asleep at their posts, he lets everyone have it. In short order, Mete re-establishes discipline among the men, but the watchful waiting takes a toll on everyone’s nerves.

Though most of his enlisted men are indistinguishable from each other, Mete Horozoğlu absolutely burns up the screen as the intense Captain. His dressing down scene truly ranks with R. Lee Ermy’s iconic work in Full Metal Jacket. Frankly, he is the movie.

Semerci’s approach to the material is also consistently intriguing, particularly his handling of the near mythic Doctor, who truly seems like a phantom when interrupting Mete’s radio communications. In truth, Breath would have been stronger had Semerci shown a bit more restraint. Though he has a weakness for pretentious imagery, the violence, while disturbingly graphic at points, is utterly appropriate to the story. This film is definitely a romanticism-free zone. Despite such occasional excesses, one can definitely understand why Semerci was driven to make this film based on the results on the screen.

If not exactly The Hurt Locker, Breath certainly holds its own during its battle sequences. By cinemateque standards, the effects are quite impressive. It also dramatically captures the fearsome beauty of Turkey’s craggy southern vistas, the kind of landscapes one would probably prefer to see in a movie rather than visit in real life.

Regardless of its imperfections, Breath is a film of undeniable power that viewers will remember for a long time after the Turkish Film Days screening. One of the boutique distributors should give it a serious look, because it is far better than many of the films that wash in and out of art-houses. An impressive representative of Turkish cinema, Breath was a fitting selection to kick-off TFD, which continues through Wednesday night (5/26) at the Village East.