Ships Sailing to Infinity… and Beyond!

in 14th Lecce Festival of European Cinema

by Marie-Pauline Mollaret

Alone in a small boat, a young man faces down an enormous ship that sails inexorably towards him, giving him no chance of escape. Then comes the title: Ships (Ferahfeza), followed by an introduction to the young man, Ali, shy and always dreaming, doing his best to work alongside his father as a ship supplier.

But soon we discover that Ali cannot bear the comfortable but dull life that awaits him: working in his father’s shop and later taking over his business. Every night, he dreams of a ship called “Vamos” which may help him escape his destiny. Ali believes in fate and coincidence and is constantly on the lookout for signs that may lead him towards the new life he dreams of. When he meets Eda, a rebellious young woman haunted by the same visions, he becomes even more determined to pursue his quest for happiness.

Together, the two protagonists build their own universe, a kind of shelter within the real world. Like children who reinvent reality, they want to change their perspective and find a new way of looking at things. In spite of their radically different temperaments, there is a chemistry between them that brings a humorous and romantic element to the film. He is calm and has his head in the clouds, she is proud and pragmatic. He is living outside the real world, she is facing it head-on. He does not want to disappoint his father, she disowns hers. So it is possible: a heroine who escapes the usual cliché, and succeeds in being both strong and feminine!

Even more impressive than the script’s subtleties are the film-making talent and aesthetic sense demonstrated by young Turkish filmmaker Elif Refig. In short and lively scenes she manages to capture life’s complexity and irony. She also has plenty of original ideas when it comes to shot composition and how to make best use of both industrial and lyrical scenery. A lock of hair flying in the sunset, a blinking neon light casting Ali successively in shadow and light… the director’s approach is at once beautiful and precise.

Of course, there is some clumsiness, as in any feature debut: some sequences seem too long, or even redundant. However, the portrayal of the urge to travel as representative of both hope and despair, dream and disillusion, marks the emergence of a promising director.

In ever more globalized societies, where everybody must face the temptation to migrate, this stationary odyssey obviously has many possible meanings. Without giving away the film’s ending, I can say that the last part swings between pessimism and hope. Escape is either useless or impossible. Maybe because the grass is not always greener elsewhere, and wherever you go, you never leave your “ghosts” behind. But obviously the journey matters more than the destination.

We can then assume that Ali and Eda will find in their experience the key to their life to come. They learn to leave behind their fantasy of a distant paradise and instead live intensely in the here-and-now. Sometimes, this is called “growing up” but it could also be referred to as “finding one’s own path” and being ready to do anything to stay on it.

Edited by Alison Frank