Wednesday, 21 May 2014

At the LTFF: "Seaburners"

The 19th London Turkish Film Festival opens tomorrow, with an opening gala at the O2 Cineworld, then runs at venues across the city until June 1st. Over the coming days, I'll be running reviews of key films in this year's program.

The brooding puzzler Seaburners opens up with a lot of far-out, unexplained imagery that needs explaining: a body lying on a beach, a deal falling through in the city, reports of smugglers on the loose, a woman wading through marshland. In her debut feature, director Melisa Önel brings an admirable show-don't-tell approach to the explanation. For a long while, there's not much dialogue, and we're left in the dark to figure out what's-what and who's-who; gradually, we piece together that everything taking place is an offshoot of the relationship between a marine biologist and one of the smugglers (the agreeably weathered pair of Mira Furlan and Timuçin Esen) whose respective territories have come to overlap.

Clearly, the desire was to squeeze out something telling from the muddy margins and damp fringes of the new Turkey - those permeable membranes through which migrant workers, for one, might pass. Yet we might question the effectiveness of how this osmosis is set out: the specifics are withheld just a shade too long, which means the tension that should be in the early scenes is lost to us, and the action thereafter is limited by the fact these characters are not much more than hired help, economic flotsam, and thus very much at the mercy of the elements. We spend the entire middle act waiting for someone to make a call or a move, and as the film gets bogged down around one farmhouse, you feel it start to replicate their muddling just a bit too accurately. Amid the murk, there are undeniable flickers of promise, but Seaburners finally reveals itself as a rather small and banal tale of commonplace snafus, rearranged such as to appear more intriguing than it actually is - and that very dressing-up robs the ending of the anger and force it really should have.

Seaburners screens at the Rio Cinema this Friday at 6.30pm, and on Wed 28 at 4.30, and then at the Ray Dolby Theatre on Sat 31 at 7.30pm.

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