A Free Spirit of Old Age

in 74th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Joyce Yang

A Free Spirit of Old Age. In this appraisal of the Critics’ winner in the Panorama section, Joyce Yang highlights an innovative beauty for its genuineness and authenticity, devoid of metaphorical fictional expressions or of any attempts to elicit pity. Ultimately, this mockumentary remains sincerely down to earth and independent in its storytelling.

Faruk begins with a familial videography style, capturing the daily humorous moments of the director’s father, Faruk, who is in his 90s. Asli Özge, the director of this film, deliberately breaks from the common practice of family documentaries by directly revealing to the audience in the first few shots that it is a mock-documentary, showing the filming and re-takes. Faruk’s charismatic and sincere personality helps build chemistry among the main and sub-plots, transcending the domestic sphere to confront larger issues than just an elderly man’s struggles – namely, the refurbishment of the old building where both father and daughter have resided for many years, and how both now face homelessness.

While the daughter is absent from the camera, her ongoing struggles to finance and complete the film project are conveyed through her off-screen voice. The story gets more interesting as more individuals join the discussion on the demolition and subsequent relocation during the rebuilding process. At this juncture, the intertwined narratives of the aging body and the aging building evoke contemplation on how memories can be preserved in a rapidly transforming city like Istanbul. Are old “things” destined solely for demolition and reconstruction? How do we confront the inevitability of aging and change? Faruk effectively demonstrates how closely related housing and aging issues can be, resonating on a global scale.

In recent years, many films have dealt with housing issues and re-allocation for various reasons. At this year’s Berlinale, the Hong Kong film All Shall Be Well juxtaposed lesbian identity and ownership of an apartment as the crux of the plot. At last year’s Singapore International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Prize went to the South Korean film The Tenants, which provided a Kafkaesque metaphorical storytelling that flipped the story from the Oscar-winning South Korean film Parasite (2019, Bong Joon-ho). However, Faruk‘s innovative beauty lies in its genuineness and authenticity, being totally devoid of metaphorical fictional expressions, preaching, overdone emotion, or attempts to elicit pity or portray victimhood. It remains sincerely down to earth and independent in its storytelling.

Faruk is the soul of the entire film. As a 90-year-old man, he is unafraid to show his body in its aged and fragile state. He interacts humorously and intelligently with other characters like neighbors, friends, and health care doctors. In the Q&A, director Asli shared that she wrote a script for every scene, although many appeared improvised. The cast includes both professional actors and real-life individuals, but their acting blends so seamlessly that you cannot distinguish between them as they interact. 

There are other great films that depict aging, such as Amour (2012, by Michael Haneke) and Father (2020, by Florian Zeller). However, what sets Faruk apart is that it sheds light on another aspect of being elderly. Rather than focusing on sentimentality or containing the story within the sick bed, Faruk handles aging themes with subtlety while showcasing the dynamic relationship between the elder and public spaces, for instance, the park. Through the lens of a daughter documenting her aging father, it depicts the struggles of global issues like urban redevelopment and displacement in deeply human terms. Faruk, the protagonist, exemplifies the dignity and value of all people, regardless of age, touching on sentiments universal to our fight to hold onto what matters most. The genuine and nuanced portrayal of the evolving perspectives of both Faruk and his daughter on their home and relationship over time elevates the film. It also challenges stereotypes by embodying the vitality and joys that remain in older age. For authentically illuminating global themes through personal stories of aging and change, this mock-documentary achieves artistic excellence and social insight. 

It seems to me that director Asli Özge deserves special attention in the Turkish film domain because of her personalized and distinguishable approach to stories about her homeland. Very often, the influences of established film directors such as Fatih Akın and Nuri Bilge Ceylan are evident in many new Turkish films. However, this is not the case for Asli Özge. She does not bear the burden of emulating other directors. Through Faruk, Asli Özge conveys a free and independent spirit. 


Joyce Yang
Edited by Steven Yates