Ali Riza and his 8 year old daughter Özlem live a simple existence, making their way through illegal street performing. Often on the run from police, they enjoy life in spite of difficulty, until the day Ali gets a terminal diagnosis. His appeal to his estranged brother Mehmet falls on deaf ears, but after he dies, the professional virtuoso is saddled with the kid anyway. He is cold at first, until his attitude causes girlfriend Suna to storm off, leaving him alone with his new niece. Slowly the two grow closer, and she might be the key in helping him make peace with the past...
My Father's Violin is a family drama from Turkey, with a musical touch. It's pretty well-worn territory, and this is nothing you haven't seen before, but it's delivered in a competent and enjoyable way, enough to make it a worthwhile viewing experience.
The story is cliched, but well written all the same. There's a good mix of drama, comedy, and day-to-day life in here. One area the film perhaps doesn't explore as much as it could have is the fallout of the father's death. After the obligatory 5 minute mourning, Özlem doesn't seem that broken up about it. I wouldn't say the film ever forgets or ignores this, it's just got its hands full developing the relationship with her uncle. This is the crux of the film, and is handled in a fairly believable way.
Özlem is an adorable girl, and talented. Her gifts never come at the cost of her childhood though. She still acts believably childlike, and never fake like she's a 30 year old in a kid's body. One of her best moments is a mix of the two, when a street 'beggar' steals her money, and she fights back.
Mehmet starts out almost quite callous, and doesn't want much to do with Özlem. His love life needs work too, and he says some really out of line things, resulting in him having to take care of the kid alone. Their relationship gradually comes together, with small conversations and moments going a long way, before more dramatic events bring them even closer.
Mehmet's girlfriend Suna is a more positive and friendly character, getting along immediately with Özlem. She's out of the movie fairly quickly though, after some harsh comments from Mehmet send her packing. This is a shame for the girl's sake, but it works in the same way as it does in Annie. She might get along better with Miss Farrell, but if she didn't get time alone with him, the relationship with the frosty Daddy Warbucks couldn't grow. Suna's back for the final act, in a nice enough reunion.
As always in these kinds of films, social services are invariably the bad guys, ready to swoop in and take the child away to a cruel orphanage. My Father's Violin doesn't go overboard with this, but it's still present.
The ending is a little abrupt, and doesn't really resolve the custody issue, but it doesn't really need to either. We get an upbeat and rousing end, and we can just assume everything turned out ok.
My only real complaint with My Father's Violin is the overlong runtime. 2 hours is just a bit excessive, and the story could've been told in less time. The film's at least never boring, but a little snipping here and there could have tightened it up.
The soundtrack here is very good, which is a must for any movie that focuses on music as much as this. We have a standard score, which is pretty decent, then we have assorted violin compositions playing throughout. Many are classic tunes, fitting scenes well and giving some oomph.
The acting is good all round. Engin Altan Düzyatan does well, starting out distant, before becoming more emotional as the movie goes on. Meanwhile, Selim Erdoğan is like a sad Michael Sheen. Belçim Bilgin is nice as Suna. And lastly, there's the film's true lead, and heart-Gülizar Nisa Uray. She gives a very good performance for her age, and manages to be cute but not cloying, and delivers funny and dramatic moments very well, especially for a young newcomer.
The film is in Turkish, but Mehmet does business with a German composer, so naturally they communicate together in English. His scenes kept throwing me through a loop, because Mehmet abruptly switches between languages. Now granted, I do have a slight understanding of English, but man it's still trippy to have your mind switched/attuned to another language, then suddenly they begin speaking your own! As for how well they actually act in English, it's fairly decent, if a bit adorable.
Lastly, the direction is quite good. Turkey is shown off well, as always (I imagine a gulag awaits for the local directors who make the country look bad, if it were possible!). Dramatic scenes are framed very well too. And the music hall sequences are grandiose.
My Father's Violin is fairly predictable, and won't change the game, but it does everything it needs to, and is worth watching if you like this sort of thing...