September 25, 2007
Zeki Demirkubuz's sophomore feature, Innocence represents a marked stylistic departure from the fragmentation and narrative asymmetry of Block-C and converges towards what would prove to be more quintessential recurring elements within his body of work: long takes, painstaking observation of temps mort, stationary camera framing, the inclusion of a hyper-extended dialogue "ellipses" (or in the case of The Third Page, a monologue) that approaches abstraction, the running television as a surrogate for self-imposed isolation, and a temporal ambiguity that projects an epic scope to intrinsically intimate, chamber dramas. Opening to the shot of a recently paroled prisoner, Yusuf (Güven Kiraç), pleading his case before the warden to remain in jail despite having served out his sentence for murder and attempted murder, arguing that he has lost touch with his sole remaining family (the married sister whom he attempted to kill along with her lover, apparently on behalf of his abusive, but weak willed brother-in-law) and does not have the appropriate support system to survive in the outside world without resorting to crime once again, as the official's door repeatedly springs open for no apparent reason, the seeming randomness of the broken door (a recurring image in his films) becomes a metaphor for the ambiguity of his future. A strange and fateful encounter with a couple forcibly removed from the bus reinforces this sense of destiny. Arriving at a rundown boarding house in a rural town to rest for the evening, he comes to the aid of a little girl stricken with fever after her parents fail to turn up for the evening to claim her. Returning the next morning to the boarding house after their mysterious disappearance, the parents turn out to be the detained couple from the bus, a genial, but mercurial drifter named Bekir (Haluk Bilginer) and the elusive object of his affection, a wanton lounge singer, Ugur (Derya Alabora) (perhaps a wink to Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel), who has been traveling across the country for twenty years (with Bekir ingratiating himself into her company) to be near her imprisoned first, "true" love. With little hope for reconciliation with his embittered and suffering sister, Yusuf returns for an indefinite stay at the boarding house and embarks on a friendship with the volatile couple. However, as Bekir and Ugur's relationship continues to be strained by the cumulative toll of their corrosive dysfunction, Yusuf, too, becomes drawn into their seductive, dark world of mutual self-destruction. Evoking the emotional intensity of an Ingmar Bergman chamber film and infused with the idiosyncratic combination of understated humor and soap operatic melodrama (not unlike the television programs that the lodgers watch each evening at the lounge), Innocence is an elegant, remarkably complex, and painstakingly rendered study of destructive obsessions and codependency. But beyond the psychological addiction that defines Bekir and Ugur's interminable journey to nowhere, Demirkubuz's framing of their relationship through the perspective of innocents, initially, through Ugur's deaf mute child, then subsequently, through the well-intentioned (and all too accommodating) Yusuf, Demirkubuz presents an intriguing portrait, not only of a pliable personality, but also the hypocrisy inherent in abusive relationships, where cruelty is rationalized by a sense of helpless, self-entitled victimization.