Cast: Sermet Yesil, Turku Turan, Hakan Altuntas, Sabahat Doganyilmaz
Review by Colin Dibben
Fans of Bela Tarr’s films Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango might appreciate this tedious Turkish ‘holy fool’ tale. But if you don’t know who Bela Tarr is, and/or what constitutes a ‘holy fool’, I guarantee this film will have you climbing the walls within five minutes.
The film opens with a wild-haired man, Kosmos (Sermet Yusil), running through a snowy landscape into a slightly decrepit town. On the outskirts, he pulls a dead boy from an icy river and brings him back to life. At first, the hard-working, poor, morose inhabitants of the town accept Kosmos, especially when his strange powers manifest themselves. But slowly they start to resent him: he refuses work – preferring to walk the streets squawking birdcalls; he ponces cups of tea in exchange for prophetic utterances; and then steals all the sugar from the town’s main café. Kosmos is, as he himself says, an ‘unexpected guest’ – but he rapidly becomes an unwelcome guest.
I can’t remember ever seeing a film in which the central character/actor so completely destroys, I mean demolishes, everything else the director is doing. I kept wishing that the eponymous character could just magically disappear from the near-perfect wintry shots that writer-director Reha Erdem and his director of photography, Florent Herry, have created. Disappear … or even be replaced by one of the saturnine, cloth-capped, heavy-overcoated male characters who trudge despondently round the snowy streets and derelict buildings of the unnamed town.
Both actor and character are so utterly unconvincing and out of place in a way that damages both the realism and the spiritual/fantastic elements of the film. His high-pitched whining voice, his idiot religious Gumpisms, his animal screeching, his half-hearted faith healing … I assume the director wants the character to represent an irruption of the spiritual/animalistic into the mundane world, but for me he was much more irritating than that – like a layer of repulsive noise on a soundtrack.
Speaking of which, much of the original music on the soundtrack is way too obtrusive – more silence would have better suited the snowy visuals – although it’s nice to hear post-rockers Silver Mt Zion and Rachel’s at key bits of the film.
All the other actors, except perhaps the overly-winsome Neptun (Turku Turan) – who also engages in too much inappropriate bird-like squawking – are spot on. Impoverished and ugly as hell, but spot on.
So, why is Kosmos still worth seeing? Take away the annoying central character and the saturated soundtrack and you have a good example of poetic film-making. In which the viewer can appreciate a series of striking images as they develop and change in time: tracking shots down wintry streets, street level shots waddling behind geese, derelict buildings in falling snow, papers whisked around by the updraft of imaginary wings, the shocked eyes of dying cattle in a slaughterhouse. I’m not sure what images like these mean in the context of the film but they are indisputably beautiful, teasing and disturbing.
The holy fool story doesn’t usually get me this worked up. I can’t understand how a director who so obviously knows what he is doing could compromise his film by focusing on such an ill-judged central character and performance. A central performance so bad that it begs the question: can we call Kosmos a competent piece of auteur film making? Or is it just more proof that people who howl like animals are very annoying?