The Long Way Home

in 37th Montreal World Film Festival

by Claudio Cordero

Seven people lost in a harsh landscape, far from civilization, surrounded by foreign troops. Nothing uplifting could come out of such a situation but a movie about surviving. The first feature film of Turkish director Alphan Eseli develops in the aftermath of the Serikamis Battle, infamous for the catastrophic consequences it had on the moribund Ottoman Empire.

The first characters to attract out attention amidst this grand winter scenario are three war refugees, a mother, her little girl and an older man in charge of their protection. They become the moral axis of the story, something that becomes more evident after they meet three soldiers of the defeated army who — as we discover later — are physically and spiritually undone by war. The group of refugees is later completed with a married couple of native farmers. All of them converge at the barn of an abandoned villa, which becomes a silent witness to the suffering of its accidental guests, famished and freezing. And it is during this time of forced inactivity and torment that the director prudently stages the unfolding tragedy.

It is said that desperate dramatic situations require adequately expressive artistic approaches, but this does not apply to the mise en scène of The Long Way Home (Eve Dönüs: Sarikamis 1915). All its power comes from its understatement. The foremost achievement of the movie is therefore its authenticity. This has to do with the characters; every one of them is unique and inscrutable in his or her own way. Eseli not only avoids Manichean opposites of good versus bad, he also offers various points of view to the events evolving, making it impossible to single out one protagonist. One way or another, everyone is a victim of war, yet no one is innocent. Each experience is equally valuable, no matter how desperate, therefore to speak of heroes or villains makes no sense.

Nature is an important character in its own right. Landscapes are indeed impressive and it is amazing that a debutant filmmaker has succeeded in avoiding the picture postcard gloss of the majestic nature before the camera, but has captured space at its most abstract and, despite the comfort of our seats, makes us feel small and frail. In contrast to images of epic vistas, the close-ups succeed in intimately penetrating into the very soul of its characters, revealing their wounds, their gazes… The master David Lean would have been pleased with the subtlety of such a visual performance! It is remindful of another, more recent, and also memorable movie about survival in a hostile environment, Peter Weir’s The Way Back (2010). Yet although The Long Way Home has a lot in common with The Way Back, its originality lies in its rejection of empathy. Here, events are marked by fatality well ahead; it’s impossible to escape war or find the way home. War is something terrible to witness yet necessary to be recreated on film as long as History continues to repeat itself in forsaken parts of the world.

Edited by Christina Stojanova