September 25, 2007
The Third Page, 1999
Like Zeki Demirkubuz's preceding film, Innocence, his equally elegant third feature, The Third Page also opens to a shot of the film's central character, in his case, a struggling bit player named Isa (Ruhi Sari) being questioned in a private room as a broken door continues to prop open. At first, the parallel framing suggests an integral similarity between the two characters: Yusuf, a person who has paid for his crime and now returns to society a figurative innocent, and Isa who continues to proclaim his innocence in vain before a brutal mob boss who continues to beat him over the disappearance of fifty dollars from a job that he had recent carried out for him. Given one day to repay the missing money, Yusuf turns to the studio where is being considered for the role of Raskolnikov for a proposed adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to ask the director for a salary advance and, without success, begins to rifle through the studio offices in his absence to search for a means to raise the money, where he finds a gun stashed in a desk drawer, and resolves to kill himself, only to be interrupted by his landlord who has stopped by to collect back rent. Stricken with physical exhaustion and delirium from his savage beating, Isa's fortunes seems to turn once again when his abusive landlord turns up dead the next morning, perhaps even by his own hand, and his beautiful neighbor, Meryem (Basak Köklükaya), the neglected and long suffering wife of a drunkard whose work as a migrant laborer often sends him away from home for long periods of time, nurses him back to health. Invigorated by his increasing attraction towards the kind and enigmatic Meryem, Isa begins to find some measure of contentment in his small, but recurring role in a soap opera, a happiness that would prove fleeting when Meryem's husband returns home and returns to her reclusive silence. Deriving the title from the designated tabloid section of the Turkish press, Zeki Demirkubuz elegantly retains the pulpy and tawdry nature of the human interest stories relegated to this section of the newspaper, even as he compassionately elevates the untold nature of their marginalized lives and suffering into the timeless, classical form of a Dostoevsky moral dilemma. Juxtaposing Isa and Meryem's seemingly sensationalized, stranger than fiction story against screen test interviews with hungry actors desperate for a part in the latest casting call (including one of Isa who reveals that his dream to play a lead role where he is able to transcend all adversity), Demirkubuz creates a potent and incisive metaphor for all humanity as struggling actors within their own evolving human drama, where personal trajectories are defined as equally by chance as it is conscience, the intricacies of divine fate and convolutions of instinctual, human machination.