Masumiyet | Innocence
DIRECTOR: Zeki Demirkubuz | WRITER: Zeki Demirkubuz | CAST: Derya Alabora, Haluk Bilginer, Güven Kıraç | Turkey
Masumiyet is written about in the Turkish press (that is, if I can trust what Google Translate translates) as a breakthrough in Turkish film and its director, Zeki Demirkubuz, as a trailblazer for the directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan who’ve followed in his path. I confess that I know next to nothing about Turkish film history and it could well be that melodramas set among the urban underclass were over-the-top and cartoonish in execution before Masumiyet, so although Demirkubuz may dial the tone back, he does not completely jettison the conventions of the genre. Indeed, such old-fashioned melodramas play incessently on TV sets that figure prominently throughout the film: when there’s nothing else to do, characters sit and watch TV in the lobbies of the crummy hotels where they live.
Yusuf, a pudgy and rather unformed looking man, is released from prison after having served his 10 year sentence and he pleads not to be released since he’s spent his entire adult life incarcerated and doesn’t know how he’ll live on the outside: he has no skills, his parents are dead, he’s estranged from his sister in Izmir, and the only friend he has was a fellow prisoner with whom he lost contact years ago. Yusuf is released anyway and since he literally has nowhere else to go he travels to Izmir to stay with his sister and brother-in-law but quickly returns to the cheap hotel where he’d rented a room. At the hotel he quickly falls in with a pimp and his bar singer/prostitute girlfriend and her deaf-mute daughter. Yusuf not only looks unformed, he’s almost personality-less: he’s meek and self-effacing, gentle, unflappable, and a doormat for everyone to step on, which is why the revelation of the violence of the crime that put him away for 10 years is so shocking when we learn what it was. Nothing prepares you for it, but then the film fails to follow through and never so much as hints that Yusuf has it in him to perpetrate such a crime ever again. I find that to be an insurmountable problem with the film: I just didn’t buy it. The acting in general is quite good except for when it goes off the rails into hair pulling, rolling on the floor in agony, and shrieks and howls of rage. The film was shot on location in what I assume are some of the seamier sections of Adana, Izmir, Ankara, and Istanbul. The familar Samuel Beckett quote (from Worstward Ho) that ends the film struck me as inappropriately hopeful for these losers. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”