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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 October 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 OCTOBER 2017 21 FILM REVIEW PHOTO: SINEMATÜRK of Roza be reconciled with his willingness to allow her to venture, unprotected, into the midst of a raging genocidal mob, knowing that her rape or death was almost a certainty? And what purpose does the penknife have, except as to act as a silly and irrelevant symbol of who knows what, when at the end of the film and her life, Roza throws it into the Bosphorus, a stretch of water that has absolutely no significance for her? One aspect of the film I found enthralling was this: Roza's granddaughter, who I suspect is a parody of Audrey Tautou, is a struggling artist with no recognition of her talent. When it is revealed to her that the only reason why her art is being recognised, purchased and exhibited in Istanbul is because her patron is actually her grandfather, Ismail, who has arranged for this to be so out of his own pocket, she barely bats an eyelid. If this was an AngloSaxon film, this revelation would have caused her immense self doubt and to question her talent and artistic value. In this film, directed towards a Greek audience, none of that betrayal or loss of validation is explored, presumably, because nepotism is so entrenched within the modern Greek psyche, that the thought doesn't even occur to her, or rather to the filmmakers who lack the insight to explore this aspect of the scenario they have created. Roza herself provides insight into entrenched nepotistic values. While she is fully cognisant of the hunk's designs on her granddaughter, she treats him with exaggerated consideration, when she forms the opinion that he is behind her granddaughter's turn in artistic fortunes. Thus, in the case of both Ismail, an abductor, murderer and person willing to allow the object of his love to venture into a massacre, and our hunk, money and favours can buy you love. Just as intriguing is the film's attitude towards to Ömer, who our hunky protagonist meets in Izmir. In their lame and clumsy attempt to trace the conversion of a racist hunky Romaic intellectual consumed with hatred into a modern, humanistic hunky European intellectual, the filmmakers have the said hunk treat his Turkish companion appallingly. Stereotypes abound: The Greek is impulsive, effusive and passionate. The Easterner is accepting, passive, stoic and kind. As the relationship thaws to the point where hunk is comfortable enough to reveal that he speaks Turkish, we are led to expect that this is a seminal moment in their relationship. Paradoxically however, the effect of this revelation is completely rendered irrelevant by the pair continuing to converse in English. Furthermore, the portrayal of the reputedly more intimate friendship is puerile: at all stages hunk acts as a western colonialist, rather than a friend. Even as the relationship warms, instead of being treated as an equal, Ömer is portrayed by the filmmakers as an errand boy or a trusty sidekick. Tellingly, he is conspicuously absent from the exhibition at the end of the film, one which could not have been held without his intervention. His absence renders our hunk’s public recantation of hatred and espousal of inter-ethnic love presciently hipsterish. In like fashion, the denouement, where after needless prevarication, Roza scurries to Ismail's deathbed, witnesses him succumbing to a heart attack, throws his knife into the sea and then dies on the pier is mystifying. Grandmother and granddaughter are close. By this stage, Roza is at least 80 years old. It stretches credulity to believe that Roza would have been allowed out at night in a strange country without supervision, let alone be permitted to perish romantically upon a pier, just so the filmmakers can reference the romance of Layla and Majnun. (Note to the filmmakers: Majnun was killed by Layla's husband. There is little or nothing to parallel their story to this one, except for an inept attempt at a little Orientalist exoticism. Still, 10 marks for trying). While the movie successfully builds up suspense and creates mystery around the circumstances of Roza's secrets, their revelation is emotionless and the retrospective scenes do not succeed in allowing us to feel her pain or sympathise to the extent that we should, partially because they are not plausible, but mostly because they are told by others and we do not get to understand them through her eyes. As such, her character remains criminally underdeveloped. This is because the filmmakers, in spending time cramming as many disparate and interesting elements into the early part of the movie in order to build suspense, have forgotten the most important rule of narrative: Show, don't tell. This is a pity because the character of Roza gives rise to immense opportunities to fully showcase the ambiguities of moving within and transcending ethnic and religious boundaries. Perhaps the filmmakers could have taken a leaf out of Alexander Billinis' brilliant Hidden Mosaics: An Aegean Tale, where similar secrets are treated in a historically plausible and nuanced fashion. The above notwithstanding, the endearing Roza of Smyrna has the makings of a thoroughly evocative and enjoyable movie, one that invites thought and consideration, a feat in itself. Its cinematography, more a paean to a lost, confident PASOKian past that to Smyrna, is lyrical and elegant. It is worth a look, not just only, to trace what could have been, an epic masterpiece, had the filmmakers the patience and the skills, but to delve into what is, a fascinating amount of detail.
21 October 2017
04 November 2017