ND/NF ]MEHMET CAN MERTLGLU: ALBÜM (2016)Pointlessly elaborate subterfuges
What's clear is that this Turkish film owes something to the unpleasant bureaucracy and unpleasant people of the modern Rumanian cinema, and director-writer Mehmet Can Mertoğlu has even engaged Marius Panduru, the dp for Cornelieu Porumboliu's Police, Adjective
’s to shoot the deeply drab 35mm. images. But while Mertoğlu has an unusual and strange subject, he has lost a sensible focus right from the first - a prelude about a cow giving birth and in vitro fertilization. It would have been better to get to the couple right away and stick to a clearcut tone. Is this social satire or something more surreal? Are we supposed to hate this couple or feel sorry or laugh?
When we meet Bahar (Şebnem Bozoklu), an employee in the government tax office and her husband, Cüneyt (Murat Kilic), a high school history teacher, everyone else in her offices is asleep with their head on the desk, and Cüneyt sits at his desk while his history class is preposterously disorderly, an obviously fake staging. This is bizarre. But what does it mean?
It is also clear that this couple can't have a baby, and this is shameful in Turkish culture, so they are carefully faking it. Bahar is wearing a fake pregnant stomach, and Cüneyt is constantly shooting her at the beach, at home, at a doctor's, later at a hospital, to assemble a "pregnancy album."
They won't take the first child offered, a girl they think is too dark, Syrian, Kurdish, and boyish looking. They move from the city of Antalya to distant Kayseri where later they get a boy, as they wanted. But they seem to find him merely an annoyance. He doesn't seem to sleep, but there's nothing wrong with him.
A relative, the orphanage director, every bureaucratic person they meet, is indifferent to his job, foul-mouthed, unfocused - more interested in football and mean to subordinates. The second orphanage director is still playing an online card game when the couple is already in his office. Is this meant to be funny? Or is it, again, a critique of Turkish society today?
Finally the couple is brought more brusquely into contact with authorities when a burglar (in their 11th floor apartment!) escapes by jumping out the window. Cüneyt, who by the way has a strictly well-behaved class now, as far in the other extreme, at his new Kayseri assignment, is forced to spend overnight at the police station because he's the last person who saw the burglar. From this foulmouthed and rude police chief he learns that they have all the couple's facts, including that they recently adopted a baby. They now know their relatives will find out. Nonetheless they start thinking of another reassignment, but obviously two in one year isn't possible, and the option that comes up is Chad - or Djibouti, but Cüneyt has heard things aren't too stable there.
There is a funny movie buried here - of a couple obsessed by appearances and incapable of becoming appropriate parents. A mainstream comedy would have them won over by the cute baby. In a darker comedy they'd just remain bad parents. But Mertoğlu is distracted by too much material that hopelessly muddles things. This film debuted at Critics Week at Cannes and won multiple nominations and some awards at various festivals, but it hasn't any chance of appealing to theatrical audiences. Albüm,
105 mins., amazingly has shown at over thirty festivals, though mostly relatively obscure ones, after Cannes (where Boyd van Hoeij in Hollywood Reporter
was no more pleased than I was by this mysterious and scattershot effort). I think this is one of these cases when a film gets passed from one festival to another without anyone looking beyond the enthusiastic festival blurb. I notice that the ND/NF one has confused the husband and wife's occupations: whoever wrote it doubtless had not seen the film. Screened for this review as part of the Mar. 2017 New Directors/New Films series.