Rarely does a film have the kind of thematic richness to it that makes one wish for a longer film than one with a running time of a mere hundred minutes. Turkish film director Tolga Karaçelik packs a lot into his film Ivy (Sarmasik) which he begins by dedicating to two literary greats: “In memory of the journeys Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness have taken me on.” The Coleridge poem is quoted through the film as a caption for a scene or otherwise emphasizing a certain segment of the film.
The film tells the story of a cargo ship this is nearing a port when the ship is forced to anchor off the port, since the shipowner has gone bankrupt and if the ship pulls into port all property will be impounded. Most of the crew can leave but a minimum of six volunteers are to stay onboard as long as it takes the legal muddle to be solved, with their salaries paid. The remaining six are a motley crew: the captain prefers to remain a remote figure of authority. He delegates to the religious chief engineer Ismail, who takes offense at the defiance of two newcomer mates, Cenk and Alper. Cenk in particular is ebullient with aggressivity and loves to provoke anyone who dares to order him to work. Caught in the middle are a naive cook and Kurd, a giant mate without either the ability or the need to speak. Tempers fly amid the interminable wait and dwindling provisions.
When Kurd goes missing, possibly thrown overboard, the tension of this chamber play-like drama reaches full momentum, and one can then only expect either a disaster or a cathartic moment. The ship and its crew remain in a situation straight from an absurd play; they cannot and do not sail, yet normal seafaring rules apply.
Karaçelik wants to do more with his film than just build up these expectations. He touches on today’s economic and political realities: mid-level bosses like the chief engineer Ismail and the cook are made to commit together with the captain to securing the crew’s smooth adherence to the rules. Karaçelik makes a point of showing how mates get restless without the routine of work and start behaving childishly. When the discipline of daily toil disappears so does organized society. The rule of law and the chain of command fall apart.
Once the crew is confused and keep on seeing and hearing traces of disappeared Kurd, the atmosphere of Ivy moves on to the territory of bottled-up fear and paranoia. It is unfortunate that Karaçelik leaves his characters more like sketches than full-blown personalities. All in all, the film leaves one eagerly awaiting Karaçelik’s next film. Like any good story, it leaves you with more questions than answers.
Edited by Carmen Gray
© FIPRESCI 2015