Wednesday, August 31, 2011

FFM Montréal 2011: Vucut

Vücut/Body (2011, Mustafa Nuri)

What your body means to you and what it means to those around you may be entirely different ideas. Each party will influence one another to a degree, but whose influence shall carry over more, yours, or that of the public? Beware if the pressure of the latter group gains the upper hand, for suddenly your life may be lived not under the conditions you want, but under societal pressures. But where exactly are the boundaries of this pressure and how can one overcome it? It is even possible? The more important question remains: do you respect yourself enough just the way you are? Turkish director Mustafa Nuri unabashedly dives into the delicate, sensitive issue of self image in some provocative ways for his directorial debut, Vucut, which played at the FFM in Montréal.

The drama begins immediately in Vücut, as in the very first scene Leyla (Hatice Aslan), and aging porn star, is desperately knocking (read: slamming) on the door to her former business partner and producer’s apartment. Dressed like a hooker but behaving like a women pleading for her life, Leyla simply wants in. Evidently something has happened between the two, but Yilmaz (Cengiz Bozkurt), the producer, is not answering. At the sound of police sirens, Leyla flees. Shortly after, Yilmaz arrives at Leyla’s home, finds his prized but bruised actress in her room and attempts to make up for earlier by proposing that they make one final film together. He’ll find a great young chap to co-star, she will earn some more money with a new bank account and retire rather comfortably. She agrees. Enter Izzat (Hakan Kurtas), a 20 year old, very handsome young man living with his obese mother (Seyla Halis) and younger sister in a small apartment. While Izzat may look attractive, he is not much of a gentleman, easily flustered, very temperamental and lazy. His mother insists that he get a job, even going so far as to locating job interviews for him, ungrateful as he may be. One thing leads to another and Izzet finds himself on the shooting set of Yilmaz’s latest porn show, which is essentially a tiny kitchen room. The scene goes through terribly, so much so that Yilmaz is enraged by Izzet’s incompetence and fires him on the spot, but the youth is captivated by Leyla. Following this tumultuous event, he does everything he can to be a part of her world...

Vücut is a stunningly multilayered film, involving several subplots, each relating to the overall theme of body image. Virtually every character in the film, be they one of the principal starts of the show or merely supporting members who appear for precious few minutes, brings a different dimension to the discussion. There are so many large and small threads Vücut juggles with that it almost becomes difficult to remember them all, but suffice to say that all earn their place in the story and help drive home the movie’s ideas, which are in fact more like challenges than any genuine attempts in talking down to the audience about how people should be respectful of everyone regardless of body types. People should know that anyhow, so why would the film spend time reiterating the obvious? Rather, Mustafa Nuri’s calculated choice to make each character three dimensional, complex and fully realized as possible, which includes a long line of strengths and weaknesses for each, means that the audience gets to see ‘life’ at work. The social setting itself, lower middle class, is equally important in dictating some of the dynamics that erupt as the story moves along. None of the characters featured in the movie are multimillionaires, each has some important things to think about with regards to their future. 

Director Nuri is unafraid in his storytelling, demonstrating full capabilities in developing a theme through  pure character interactions. The exploration of these individuals, from Izzet, to his mother, to Leyla, to Leyla’s sister, to Izzet’s bodybuilding friend, to Yilmaz, to Yilmaz’s attractive but sexual interested wife, all of it adds fascinating layers to the discussion of body image and the prejudices which can easily arise to cause friction, embarrassment, rage, depression, overconfidence, exclusion, inclusion, etc. Despite offering a few humorous scenes, mostly during the horrendous porn movie shoot, Vucut plays things as straight as possible. Since most of the people involved are coming from dark places, whether by circumstances, as in Leyla’s case, or by their own creation, as in Izzet’s case, the film is a rather tough drama. What its story does incredibly well is have the viewer understand the consequences of prejudice. How those subjected to it react as how do its perpetrators behave. It is not as though audiences are oblivious to the topic, we make up ideas of people based on how they look almost all the time. Vücut confronts this practice head on and does not let up until the bitter end. The mere fact that it features a group of leading characters like a good looking young man, an porn star in her late forties, a fat woman and a fat little girl is indicative enough of the sort of cinematic territory the film is willing to venture into. Those brief descriptions alone conjure up thoughts in people’s heads, not just with regards to how those people might look, but also about why they might look that way, which in turn prompts people to start guessing, for good or ill, about their lifestyles and who they are. Vücut challenges that practice in an unforgiving manner. 

Punctuated by the study of prejudice are the very real, very emotional ties between all the people we are seeing on screen. At the forefront of these relationships is that sought after by the young Izzet, played wonderfully by Hakan Kurtas, who stars in a movie for the very first time (just like his character in the film itself). He and Leyla form an odd couple, At first, Leyla wants very little to do with this brash little boy. She is already wrestling with the very thought that her life has gone to waste. As her sister puts it, Yilmaz used her up during the best years of her life. Those years have now passed and Leyla is left with the notions of what could have been. Izzet is smitten by her, which is immediately comes as something of a shock. Not that actress Hatice Aslan is unattractive, but that he could go for so many girls of his age. Yet, his devotion to Leyla functions as the lone attempt in the film to destroy a prejudice. Leyla is a washed up porn star is slowly losing her looks, but Izzet wants nothing more than to be with her. The irony of the entire situation is that by inadvertently trying to go beyond a boundary set by a prejudice (or several prejudices, one other being the odd sight of a young, twentysomething going out with another person in her late forties), their time together creates as much tension as existed in their lives before. Leyla is fighting depression, thus causing a slavish devotion to a collection of pills, Izzet is still the easily irritable fellow he was before, and so when Leyla is not the mood to do what he likes, well, things don’t go so well. It certainly makes for an interesting way to this plot thread to develop seeing how things to do not go as happily as one might like. Then again, both are from worlds so far apart, because of culture and age, that one must stop and think that has to be a better way to break down a boundary. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.  Special mention should go to Hatice Aslan, who is spellbinding in Vücut. Her vulnerability is infinitely watchable. The scenes in which her sister comes to visit are fantastic in how they award her some happy moments and we get to see Aslan offer beautiful smiles. Those smiles leaves a lasting impression since they are the few we have privy to in the picture. A haunting performance, one that perfectly captures the story of a broken soul.

Vücut is easily one of the more powerful films to come out in 2011. Turkish films do not make it out to North America very much, thus doubling the privilege felt by having seen Mustafa Nuri’s terrific drama.

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