Monday, March 13, 2017

SXSW ’17: Inflame

There is no crime of such enormity society cannot be manipulated into forgetting. Just ask Hasret. The news editor ought to know, but she too has also forgotten, even though the outrage in question hit tragically close to home. However, her subconscious has been nagging her, perhaps alarmed the sins of the past are being repeated with impunity by an Orwellian government and its complicit media allies in Ceylan Özgün Özçelik’s Inflame (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 SXSW.

Hasret lives in a Turkey just a tad bit more dystopian than it currently is now. Call it near future by four or six months. She works as an editor at the Turkish CNN, where she has a front row seat to view media manipulation, in favor of the autocratic government’s official party line. It has taken a toll on her soul and her conscience, but there is something disturbing her at an even deeper level. For weeks, she has troubled by visions of her late folk musician parents—at least she hopes they are just waking dreams or the like. Regardless, they have led Hasret to question the official report of their deaths in 1993, supposedly due to an auto accident.

As the current climate becomes more repressive, Hasret’s own body and mind start to rebel. She starts cutting social ties, confining herself to her parents’ flat in an old quarter of Istanbul scheduled for demolition. She becomes prime proof of the cynical adage: “just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” Of course, that puts she in an enormously dangerous position.

Those who really know their Turkish history will pick up on the significance of the year 1993 and Hasret’s parents trip to a cultural festival in Sivas. Those who do not, can thank the Erdogan regime and their allies for banishing the 1993 mass murder of thirty-five artists and musicians down the national memory hole. During the very real historical incident, thirty-five artists and musicians were burned death in their hotel by a mob of intolerant Islamists. According to the film’s closing titles, a number of the attorneys for the accused arsonist-murderers now hold high-ranking political positions, which should not surprise anyone who has been paying a thimble-full of attention to the regressing nation.

Inflame is an important film that took considerable guts to make, but it makes few stylistic concessions to reach a wider mass audience. The parallels with Polanski’s Repulsion need little explanation, but the scope of Inflame is much wider and its themes are far more macro.

Algi Eke’s portrayal of Hasret’s descent into madness is absolutely harrowing. She carries every agitated second of the film. Frankly, most of the rest of the cast hardly gets a chance to register, but there is something unsettling about Özgür Çevik’s turn as her ostensive platonic friend Mehmet. Although we are not given any explicit reason to distrust him, he still manages to set off all our alarm bells.

Özçelik creates a similarly eerie tone—sort of Charlotte Perkins Gilman by way of George Orwell. It is not the easiest film to watch, but if you like to be challenged by cinema, it will definitely do that. It also clearly defies the prevailing authoritarianism of Turkey’s increasingly Islamist government, which constitutes genuine dissent and defiance.  Uncompromising in every way, Inflame screens again tomorrow (3/14) and Thursday (3/16) during this year’s SXSW.