Friday, November 22, 2019
Yeşilçam star Cüneyt Arkın is still regarded as an icon of Turkish cinema to this day. He would appear in all sorts of movies, some A-pictures, but often b or z grade stuff, often notoriously cheesy, with genres ranging from action, to historical, and romance, etc. Something for everybody!
Kemal is a rough tough drifter. When not secluded away on his boat, he's beating up gangsters, evading attempts on his life, and trying to find the men at the top, all in the name of revenge for his lost family. From afar, a young woman becomes smitten with him, but this may prove dangerous when Kemal's enemies start converging on the boat, intent on getting rid of him for good...
Çöl opens with some hilarious opening credits. With a lot of the cheap action films of the period, the sound editors didn't know how to overlay sound effects over the action without removing the music, so the rousing melody would pause literally every single time a punch is thrown. Here is even worse, if you can believe it! Whenever the movie cuts back to the credits, the music pauses each time! We'll get about 10 seconds of Arkın riding his motorbike while his tough guy music plays, then it cuts to silence, cuts back to the music, silence again, etc.
Çöl starts off interestingly. At first it seems like the lead is a bad guy, but as the movie goes on,we get his backstory, and a good insight into his character. He's the kind of guy where you're not quite sure what to make of, neither good nor bad.
The plot is simple, but effectively so (albeit clunky in places). The other crux of the film is surprisingly well handled! There's depth in the otherwise stoic Kemal's friendship with Ali, and the direction this goes is very unexpected, and really makes you think. The only problem I really had with the ending (y'know, besides it being totally depressing) is that Kemal doesn't really seem to deserve it once we see how he's not that bad a guy.
Kemal is an alright protagonist. As a character, he relies on the actor portraying him to give him life through the long stretches of silence and stoicism, and thankfully it does come across well, even if I was laughing from time to time at his 'badass' moments, like when he shoots a man in the head, and they somehow manage to still be alive just long enough for him to deliver a speech.
One moment that I found amusing was when the next target is in the process of being robbed just as Kemal's about to kill him, and the guy has to rely on these crooks as reluctant protectors.
The acting here is all fine. Perfunctory at worst, quite good at best. Cüneyt Arkın manages well as the lead. Love him or hate him, you've gotta admit that appearing in 300+ films does tend to give you plenty of experience! Also present are plenty of bikini-clad Turkish beauties, who act decently with what they're given.
After spending the whole movie constantly giving off villainous glances, Yeşilçam regular Hüseyin Peyda does eventually fill the role of a bad guy, which would've been more a surprise had he not been glaring at the camera the entire time..
The fight scenes are pretty hilarious, with re-used sound effects and grunts, sped-up footage, ridiculous facial expressions from Arkın, and over the top choreography that involves lots of flailing and gesticulating. flailing around. The gory finale is so ridiculous it'd be enough to make you think this was a comedy, if not for the otherwise bleakly serious story!
When not stealing music from Rocky, Psycho, or Thunderball, the scoring here is quite good, and effective!
While we're talking about theft, this movie has seen many bootleg releases calling/dubbing it Turkish Jaws, but is it? No, not really. The differences speak for themselves, and the only similarity comes in the form of an antagonistic shark at the very end.
The direction and cinematography/framing is pretty good for the most part Attempts at being disorienting during fight sequences are less than effective, as they consist of wildly jerking the camera around. A high point for me is the direction of the shark, which makes sure to only show it in the briefest of flashes. This doesn't work, of course, as it still looks like the fakest thing imaginable, but I appreciate the effort.
I was originally under the impression that this film was called Göl, which means 'lake'. Odd, I thought, that it would be titled after a lake when it's set largely on the ocean. As it turns out though, I'd misread it. The movie's actual title is Çöl...which means 'desert'! As little sense as it makes to name a movie set on the ocean Lake, it makes a darn sight more sense than Desert! Perhaps it's intended to be metaphorical, like Horse with No Name? An ocean is but a desert of blue, with its life below. That's actually pretty clever, I suppose, albeit not entirely obvious.
Çöl is an alright crime flick, with a huge dose of cheesiness. As a film it stands alright on its own, but it's also an interesting artifact into low-budget fare of the 1980s in Turkey, when the Yeşilçam era was starting to fade...
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