"Two Lines": The Mystery of Inertia By Marina Drozdova

in 21st Athens Panorama of European Cinema

by Marina Drozdova

Athens’ competitive program revealed high cinematic achievements. This happens sometimes in museums: the artists’ names may not be very telling, but their art speaks for itself — valuable in and of itself, if not famous. They intrigue us with unexpected intonations and particular details. They may neither start trends nor fit into existing ones, but they impress us with independent perspectives. All of this applies to most of the festival’s films.

Two Lines (Iki Çizgi) by Turkish director Selim Evci generated much discussion as a candidate for our FIPRESCI jury’s prize. Eventually, it was Jerzy Skolimowski who received the award, but Two Lines earned a special commendation. The existential adventures of the film’s middle-aged lovers — she is about forty, he perhaps thirty — begin in Istanbul, where they live. They end up or rather, reach a new level in a little motel yard by the Turkish seaside. She is a highly paid office worker. He is a photographer, not so much professionally as vocationally; he tries to draw attention to various things with his camera. They have lived together; it seems, for a while. What ties them together, we hardly know. This ephemeral “something” — what it is that binds them — becomes the film’s mystery, obscured from our view but unmistakably pushing the story. That momentum is unhurried, even lazy; it promises nothing to either the viewer or the characters in terms of any big effects. But this dramatic device also echoes the characters’ manner.

They are both phlegmatic, but in different ways. She is stable and concentrates on her work. Her leisure time is filled with simple and personal fantasies. She studies piano, and enjoys matching the music she plays to her moods. She is somewhat aloof, like a sculpture. She is quite glamorous as well. Her companion is also contemplative. Unlike his lady, however, he lacks that inner harmonious state; he is rather indifferent, nihilistic. These two concepts of life outwardly similar but fundamentally different must ultimately clash. The film’s first episode shows a theatre scene, with the characters on stage arguing about their relationship. The film’s characters are watching this play. In the next episode, at night, a thief enters their apartment. Neither they nor we can see him — all anyone hears are his muffled movements. When the thief approaches their bedroom, they pretend to sleep. And the mysterious thief looks at them, as if they too were characters on stage. This veiled closeness to staged existence, to portraying a fantasy of self in a theatrical play, becomes the film’s main intrigue — concealed until the very end.

This small description may already convey the shadowy reflections of cinematic works of Michael Haneke, Nuri Bilge Ceylan — or, reaching back further, of Bertrand Blier and Michelangelo Antonioni. Such associations alone allow one to “imagine in words” the young director’s cinematographic language without watching his film. Indeed, the visual space of Two Lines comes across as original and independent. It carries the qualities of good direction; multiple meanings are conveyed by simple actions and natural scenes. The film’s existential, psychological and emotional content is much richer than the story that occurs.

And this is how it occurs. In the course of their measured lives, the characters decide to take a drive. Not too far, not too fast, just like everything else in their world. Scenes of nature flash by the windows, their beauty or meaning apparently inert. But this inertia is also ironic — whatever happens with the backdrop of these scenes, they remain still and disconnected. And the characters try to mimic this disposition — to stay disconnected, uncaring and calm. But nonetheless, little by little, their psyches become engaged. They start to question the state of their relationship. Who depends upon whom? Who takes advantage of whom? Who allows himself or herself to be taken advantage of? And for what?

Their sparse dialogues convey a surprising number of meanings. Eventually it turns out that what truly ties these two characters together is their deeply hidden passion for playing out other people’s lives — a passion for pretense, transformation, psychological and sexual perversions, and changes of identity. They both eagerly enter a “stage” they themselves had imagined and begin playing personae they’ve invented. This is the meaning of their symbiosis: “We are so different, but we are together.”

Two Lines is Selim Evci’s debut. It is a pleasure to behold this young director’s ease and comfort with a variety of natural scenes, as well as his ability to convey different textures on the screen — from the heroine’s skin to the leaves of a sunflower.