Friday, December 2, 2022

My Father's Violin (2022)

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...

Love Tactics (2022)

Aslı is a fashion designer, and secretly the brains behind Love Tactics, a romantic advice blog. After a doubtful comment, she is inspired to prove a point to her followers-She can use her relationship science to make any man fall in love with her. Meanwhile, ad executive Kerem makes a similar bet with his friends. By chance, the two meet at a party, and soon get acquainted. A series of further coincidences see the couple grow closer, and without even realising it, their game is no longer fake...

A very new rom-com, Love Tactics is a co-production between Turkish film studio BKM and Netflix. That might raise some eyebrows, but I have a fair amount of trust in Turkey's current crop of cinema (even if many Turks don't), and they've found themselves a good niche. It must be their dream to get some sweet American money!

The story here is self aware, with both the man and woman thinking they're in charge, trying to show how love is all a big load'a bunkum. Naturally they fall head over heels for real, and it's every bit as cliched as you're expecting. This is hardly a surprising movie, and every big moment is pretty obvious, but it's the kind you go into looking forward to seeing them play out. It also never feels obnoxious with its self-referential attitude to cliches, to my relief.

While knowingly cheesy, the writing is quite good. Despite the cynical main characters, the movie is never mean spirited. I think these elements feed off each-other. Their cynicism helps Love Tactics avoid being too schmaltzy, while the rom-com cheesiness keeps the movie charming.

The romance is handled quite well, cliches and all. There's one scene in particular that feels straight outta Ghost, with its pottery class. It can also be sickeningly sweet in a couple places, and made me groan at the screen.

The humour is pretty successful throughout. It never gets too vulgar, lazy, cheap, and has a good combination of everything. I especially liked the great swearing tirade near the end!

The characters are well-written, and manage to be likeable, despite both being ratbags. That's something I feel the movie excels in. Neither Aslı or Kerem are totally good, both having manipulative ulterior motives, but neither are truly bad, hence why they get swept along in their game. Their actions aren't necessarily wrong (Kerem's a player, but he's not a misogynist, and Aslı is just cynical), it's just their outlooks are coming from the wrong place.

The film has no subplots, it just goes straight from one scene to the next. Pretty refreshing! Not that there's a problem with subplots, but seeing a movie as straightforward as this nowadays was a real surprise. The only drawback is that we don't see the friends getting their own little vignettes, but I at least felt their parts were well written by the end.

While Love Tactics is one big cliche, it actually takes quite a few surprising routes with many of the little details. Namely, the movie turns conventions on their head by having it be the woman who does the worse offence, and has to go rushing to the airport.

The cast here are of particular note. Local heart-throb Şükrü Özyıldız does great as both a smooth player, and a genuine romantic figure. I was particularly impressed with Demet Özdemir, who I've seen before playing the lead in a goofy comedy (Turkish Dance School). Her performance here is so different it was almost hard to believe it was the same actress. The rest of the cast does well, from the skeezy client, to his sultry daughter, and all of the friends (One of whom looks just like a young Hüseyin Peyda!).

The direction here is quite good, and text message/blog post effects are overlaid fairly unobtrusively. Then there's the location work, which looks pretty spectacular, especially thanks to to the framing. Highlights include the outside dinner, and the balloon sequence.

All in all, this shows off the country as well as most Turkish films, but Love Tactics in particular feels like it was financed by the tourism commission. Mission accomplished then, I wanna go riding the balloons in Cappadocia! It's only tourists who can afford them nowadays anyway.

There's a lovely score here by 'Jingle Jungle'. Any worries that they might be a soulless paint-by-numbers outfit are quickly allayed by their charming music, and the ending track in particular is nice. Unless I'm going crazy, it sounds like it mixes social media 'likes' with the melody, in a neat way!

Love Tactics is a pleasant enough movie. Yes, it's cliched, and sure, it may be the product of a potentially soulless corporate union. But if nothing else, it's a fun time. If you like rom-coms, it can't hurt, and if you hate 'em but must watch for the sake of your girlfriend, it won't hurt too badly...