And Quiet Blows the Zephyr

in 14th Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Latika Padgaonkar

The lush, wooded, mountainous countryside of Turkey’s eastern Black Sea region is more than a simple backdrop for the FIPRESCI award-winning film Zephyr (Zefir) shown at the Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival in Ankara this year. It is a receiver of hidden emotions and a teacher of life and death for Zephyr, the film’s eponymous protagonist, a young girl not yet into her teens. Belma Bas’ first feature intertwines in a meditative way the beauty of nature and Zephyr’s suppressed anguish at her mother’s long absence.

There is little by way of story to this linear narrative but plenty to the texture. The stubborn yet vulnerable girl is spending her summer holidays with her grandparents in the countryside, waiting for her mother to return. What the mother does is only hinted at: she seems to be an activist engaged somewhere in voluntary work. As Zephyr sits on craggy hilltops and gazes at the winding road leading to her homestead, we feel her anxiety and her longing for her mother. She says little, but her body language is tense. The days pass in helping her taciturn grandparents with sundry chores, playing with the neighbours’ children, wandering in the woods and past streams, discovering dead animals and reptiles and learning from her grandfather how to bury them respectfully. Belma Bas integrates these shots and incidents into a majestic whole, giving each of them a place in the final tapestry she weaves. No shot is superfluous. When Zephyr feels frustrated and is unable to express her confusion, she turns to her companion, a music box, and plays music at a deafening volume; once Nergis — the neighbour’s cow whose milk sustains the community — goes missing in the mist. These minor incidents will resonate later in the structure of the film.

To Zephyr’s joy, the mother does return, but we soon learn that she plans to leave again — alone. Why we do not know. This silence is crucial to the film’s script. Neither does the daughter ask nor does the mother tell, even though both seem undone from within. The grandparents have little to say. At one point, the grandfather and daughter (Zephyr’s mother) sit side by side on the cliff, buried in their thoughts. Few words are exchanged.

Time comes when Zephyr’s mother must leave early one morning, and the story seems wrapped up. But the wilful girl will not be left behind. She follows her mother — secretly at first — down the path her mother had taken when she came visiting, past the lovely woods Zephyr has ventured into. A fierce argument ensues between them, but Zephyr will not turn back. Finally, the mother decides to talk to her, and they perch themselves on the cliff just as grandfather and daughter had done before.

What follows is a spontaneous end that snaps your breath. Bas gives us a superb psychological study of a girl too young to articulate and reason but old enough to feel strongly and have a will of her own. This visually engaging and minimalist-in-approach film with no frills — only a powerful content and well-harnessed feelings — has a denouement that is wholly in keeping with its characters, its landscape and storyline.

Structured with great care and apparent seamlessness, Zephyr is a poignant work, emotionally charged without ever slipping into heaviness or sentimentality — a triumph of cinematic technique in which nothing is contrived; its movement from one sequence to the next is gentle, slow, like the pace of rural life, quiet like the landscape, with every image communicating something which only the final crescendo will reveal. But, as in nature, there are inexorable forces at work. A film with a feel that remains with you long after the screen grows dark. The FIPRESCI jury commended it for “the strength and reserve of its script, its luminous camerawork, its subtle integration of nature into the storyline and the powerful use of silence to convey the state of mind of a sensitive and self-willed girl.”