Important and Timely One

in 62nd Valladolid International Film Festival

by James B. Evans

There’s little room for the comic idiom in these neo-liberal times; the themes of many contemporary European film festivals – Valladolid was no exception –seem to be a triad of masculinity in crisis, post-femininity in crisis and the migration crisis, the latter of which has had a growing number of cinematic treatments in recent feature films. Given the number of such narratives it is no surprise that migration fatigue threatens the filmgoer. But occasionally a film stands out above the rest in addressing this urgent and pressing social issue with a perspective that is insightful and in the case of this film, brutally clear. First-time Turkish director Onur Saylak has achieved this in his FIPRESCI critic’s award winning. More (Daha) presented at the 62 nd Semana International de Cine de Valladolid.

Set in a seemingly bucolic Aegean sea coast in rural east Turkey, the film is based on the novel by Turkish author Hakan Gunday (who co-wrote the script with Saylak). It tells the story of 14 year old Gaza (Hayet van Eck) who in obedience and deference to his father, Ahad (Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan best known for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is involved with the father-son business of wholesaling fruit and vegetables by day, and illegal Afghan, African and Middle Eastern migrants by night. In a dehumanising environment, the brutish Ahad is a middle man in the nocturnal transactions of picking up the ‘cargo’ from boatmen who have risked the passage, herding them into his fruit and veg truck and then transporting them to his underground lockup hidden in an outcrop building. Once there, he locks them in, distributing minimum water and food until it is relatively safe to pass the on to the next traffickers. Where and to what end never troubles him and neither does the opportunity to sell extra food and blankets, pimp the women out, or to rape them himself. Quick with a beating or venting his rage, he rules both migrants and son with an iron hand. His one fear is losing his obedient, but sensitive and intelligent son, to the possibility of an educated life in Istanbul. He denies his son such an outcome with threats of violence and crude gestures of solidarity such as adding the moniker ‘and Son’ to the signage on his truck. But his most controlling behaviour is to slowly chip away at the boy’s humanity, sensitivity, empathy and finally feelings. The director portrays this transitional shift of character with a steely eye and the resultant film is a brutal and tough watch. Clichés and envisioned outcomes are avoided, and the final frames will leave the viewer with much to contemplate.

The cinematography captures the miserable and claustrophobic conditions that the migrants endure in their underground lair – as close to a prison as possible – which is also reflected in the prison-like existence of young Gaza who tries to psychically escape by showing some human kindness to the illegals but in this world, everyone is a victim and everyone wants ‘more’: freedom, money, food, sex, stability.

In a key scene, shot from inside of the room Gaza is watching from, he sees his father dragging a young woman across the compound in preparation to rape her. He presses her against the door of where the boy has been watching and as the repeated banging against the door is clearly the rape sonically taking place (though we don’t have to forbear viewing it) the boy covers his ears and curls up into a foetal position in order to blank out the horror taking place but for which he can neither escape nor ignore – just hide from. A salutary lesson from within the film itself and whose meaning stretches to beyond the screen.

This is a confident and persuasive first time directorial effort from actor Saylak, and with most visual, aural and plotting elements of the film well controlled it is a successful, if downbeat piece of cinema. A point of critique however is the use of inter-title time inserts and bits of verbal narrative which do not work as effectively as was intended and even seem a bit gratuitous with regard to the overall narrative structure. But this is a small point: More (Daha) is a harrowing and sometimes relentless movie-going experience: but an important and timely one.