16 August 2007 | Chris_Docker
There is an attempt to use ultra slow observation such as that of Bela Tarr, but it doesn't work for such an inexperienced filmmaker
What's the worst thing you've ever done? Told a lie? Stolen something perhaps? Cheated?
Unfortunately, doing the right thing, whatever that is, can be closely linked to having the right thing in the first place. A wealthy person doesn't want to mug you for five shillings. A person in a blissfully satisfying relationship has no incentive to cheat. How far do you have to be compromised - before your moral code is compromised? What is your personal break-off point? Before you will maybe bend the truth? Or commit a sin? A crime, even?
Different circumstances don't justify wrong actions. Or alter what is right and wrong. But they do make it different.
Riza seems like a nice guy. Turkish. Drives a lorry (his only possession, and mortgaged). From Adana to Istanbul (the only world metropolis situated on two continents).
Let's remember Turkey is a unique country. One we might want to understand better if it is going to be part of the European Union. Secular, but shoulder to shoulder with a heritage where women have less rights. Growing economically, but many suffer desperate hardship (20% are below the poverty line). Watching football on a shared TV set might be the highlight of your day. A country where your first duty, you may deduce, is first and foremost just to survive.
Riza's truck has broken down in Istanbul. He has to work to pay his debts but he has no money for the cost of repairing the crankshaft. Holed up in a miserable hostel, we suddenly see him living as if in a third world country rather than a thriving metropolis. Other residents are similarly trapped in a life from which they desperately need an exit. A Kurdish peddler hoping for a job in a factory. An old man who does nothing but watch TV. A gay sailor waiting for a ship. An Afghan hoping to follow his son as an illegal immigrant to Italy. His daughter in law.
It was the Afghan that reminded me of the clash of worlds. Once in Delhi, years ago, I had befriended a Pakistani. We went to a respectable nightclub together. It was an exotic outing for him as there was live music something forbidden in his home country. But the establishment would not allow us to sit at the same table if I ordered alcohol as a Pakistani he was not allowed to be tempted by drink. Male bonding over cups of tea becomes a preferred option. A ritual that the Afghan also uses in an attempt to break the ice.
At first sight, the Afghan and the Turk seem very similar to western eyes, but they are vistas apart. Mannerisms, language, expectations. His beautiful hijab-covered daughter looks out of place. At once vulnerable and threatening.
Riza also is having a crisis of conscience with an old lover, Aysel. He once treated badly (add to this, problems with attitudes to women, even in secular Turkey, and the baggage women consequently carry). Riza's mind is confused he wants to borrow money from her or does he still like her? Aysel is feeling befuddled and angry by his advances. She is still dealing with her own guilt not over her infidelity with Riza, but over her resentment to serving her husband.
Every avenue deteriorates for Riza. Something bad is waiting to happen. Strangely, it is Riza's awful response to his predicament that guiltily releases kindness from his selfish heart.
Riza is an interesting character study in which badness takes on a worryingly ambiguous mantle. Its merit is the ambiguous questions and awkward character study it presents. It also is a window into a country that the West knows too little about. But when there is nothing for the characters to do in their empty surroundings, nothing happens. There are interminably long silences in which you could put the kettle on, come back, and no-one would have moved or said anything. Sometimes I felt like I was looking at a broken crankshaft waiting for it to mend itself.