Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NY Turkish Film Festival ’10: Kosmos

Those holy fools usually say the sagest things, but not this one. He might be legitimately miraculous though. He is also animalistic and frequently annoying, as the populace of one northern Turkish town learns firsthand in Reha Erdem’s Kosmos (trailer here), which screened during the 60th Berlinale and closed the 12th New York Film Festival last Sunday night.

Kosmos has no back-story. Somehow, he just happens to be in cold, snowy Kars. It is a case of right place-right time when he pulls young boy out of the freezing river and magically resuscitates him. The town folk want to make an honest citizen of him, but he is more interested in the young boy’s older sister, Neptün. While her father is appalled by the prospect, she sort of-kind of falls for his innocent wildness. While maybe not quite willing to go the full Lord of the Flies with him, she is willing to do some serious behavioral slumming. (Indeed, Kosmos’ horror movie looking poster is deceptive. That is just their snapping and snarling flirtation.)

Much like the Filipino classic Himala, word of the fool’s alleged power of healing soon gets out. Naturally though, the feeling of impending tragedy is impossible to shake. Just to keep audiences thoroughly off balance, Erdem even drops X-Filish hints late in the film. Yet, the oddest aspect of Kosmos is the title fool himself. Neither a truth-talking trickster nor a wounded innocent, he is an almost feral figure, intentionally made difficult to embrace through his high-pitched keening and compulsive restlessness.

Sermat Yeşil truly goes for broke as Kosmos, yelping and twitching like a mad man, but still expressing a weird, instinctive sensitivity. Likewise, Tükü Turan is nearly just as bold as the intriguing Neptün. However, most of the villagers represent a typical small town conformity that seems completely defensible when contrasted with Kosmos’ wild acting out, supernatural powers not withstanding.

Largely eschewing color, cinematographer Florent Herry gives the film a cold severe beauty appropriate to its frozen environment. To his credit, Erdem never compromises his vision, but the finished product feels overly conscious of it portentous symbolism and its art film status.

Kosmos features a visceral, gutsy lead performance from Yeşil, but that does not necessarily mean viewers will enjoy spending time with him. Though certainly memorable, Kosmos really is a festival film, but along with popular films like Love in Another Language, it gave patrons a good sense of the spectrum of Turkish cinema at the recently concluded 2010 NY Turkish Film Festival.