Turkish remakes of foreign movies, whether official or not, are pretty commonplace, but not so much of their own. One would hope these films and actors are considered too untouchable to try and match. With this in mind, I was surprised to see a new version of Aahhh Belinda of all things! The original was a magical realist film about feminism and household roles, directed by auteur Atıf Yılmaz. How will this be updated for the modern day?...
Dilara is a stuck-up actress coasting through life. When offered a new gig as a housewife in a shampoo commercial, she is skeptical, but the director guides her through the role of Handan, insisting she not just play the role, but to be it-Be Handan. The moment Dilara opens her eyes, she finds the crew disappeared, the cameras and lights gone. She's in a real apartment, with the actors now living their roles and believing her to be Handan. After running around her old haunts, she realises the whole world has changed, and no-one recognises Dilara anymore. What is happening, and can she find a way back to the real world? Or will she have to get used to a new one?...
1986s Aahhh Belinda is a pretty good film, but not without flaws. With that in mind I could totally see it as worthy of a remake! It's still probably too recent for the 'honour', but a new version could tackle the idea, and maybe explore certain things the original didn't, or do some things better. Does 2023s effort succeed? God no! Bloody hell, I usually like modern Turkish films, but this was a pretty rough one.
Aahhh Belinda 2023 (or Oh Belinda as it's sometimes called in English, because Ah was untranslatable Turkish gobbledygook apparently) starts off with a pretty neat song-and-dance number, and quickly introduces us to our lead character. As the key to the story and development, her personality is integral. So what is she like?...She's a bitch!
Our heroine shows herself to be a rude, angry, and jaded lady, who bitches about everything. You could say this is intentional for her character growth, but she acts like this for the whole film, and never changes. Instead of being subtle, the film spells things out for us. It's not enough that she isn't the fondest of children, here she's gotta yell in the streets about how much she hates them (although this does admittedly lead to a great comeback by the mother).
This actually had me worried about the film's themes. Is this made by a chauvinist who's trying to show why feminists/outspoken women are all vapid bitches, and all they need is to be reminded of their place by a firm husband? How wild would it be if the modern version of this tale was more sexist than the original! Thankfully this doesn't turn out to be the case. In fact there were very little feminist themes to be picked up on at all.
I'm not sure if the themes of the original even transplant well to the modern era. I know Turkey is still a bit behind when it comes to gender politics, but they've had 40 years of modern women since the times of subservient housewives. If Dilara is transported to an 80s world I suppose it could make sense, but nope, this shampoo commercial world has flatscreen TV's and ipads.
The story here isn't the greatest, but it's not awful for the most part, and gets the job done. The pacing can be a bit slow, and a lot more happened in the original by certain points. The film does eventually settle down a bit, and has some good scenes. The mystery does intrigue, even if there are never answers (which works since it never promises any).
Dilara is a thoroughly unlikeable protagonist. Besides the aforementioned qualities, she swears like a fucking sailor, which fucking gets old fucking fast. Swearing can be an artform if done right. But without that care it just feels mindless, like a kid who's just learned to curse and won't stop, to show how 'cool' they are. Dilara also comes off as slutty. Not because she's having sex. Nothing wrong with that, and the lead in the original did too. But it's how she does it that feels offputting, like a grotty stripper shoving her ass in your face.
She is trapped in the role of Handan, a boring repressed housewife. Everything the outspoken, brash, and contrarian Dilara hates. Yet confusingly, before Dilara took over, Handan was having an affair, with a kinky Dominatrix side, and stole hundreds of thousands of dolla...lira! She doesn't really sound like a submissive figure.
Despite being in this new role Dilara doesn't really do anything housewifey. Her husband is a meek guy who she can walk all over. After ranting once too many about being from another world, Dilara is briefly committed. She tries acting for the doctors to prove her story, only to be quickly sedated (thank goodness!). Here she speaks with a crazy lady, in a scene I thought was meant to be funny at first, like Dilara mistakenly thinks this inmate spouting gibberish is an important sage. But it turned out this is meant seriously.
Once she's out she tries acting again, going to her old theatre under a pseudonym. She blags her way into a job, before being fired near the end. Not sure why, when they liked her acting anyway. All that matters is she can do the job, not if she's a bank clerk with two kids. This is acknowledged, but never answered. Not really sure what any of this subplot added. Also, it is odd how Dilara meets people from the real world in this commercial one, but that was in the original too, so I can't complain.
The husband is an alright character, if slightly pathetic and possessing a creepy Joker grin. The kids are ok but severely underused. We do get a bizarrely intense bedtime story from their granny, who presumably traumatises the little munchkins with a horror story about The Sack Man. This story was in the original film, but the remake goes way overboard with it. Maybe Turkish grandma's are just really serious about scaring kids straight!
At times Aaahh Belinda almost becomes a thriller, with Handan having helped steal a load of money, and is in trouble from an unseen gang. This feels unnecessary, like the producers thought the movie wasn't interesting enough and needed extra spice. It didn't, and we see so little of this subplot, with no resolution, that it was pointless anyway.
A hyper montage is all we get showing Dilara's growing comfort with her new role. It has some amusing moments, but that's pretty much it. Dilara never seems to have any real emotional acceptance with this world. Only an exchange with her husband, which just leads to sex. And then the only reason she's so happy is because she figures out where the cache of money is hidden. We have no tender moments like with her father in the original, nor anything with the kids. In the end, Dilara doesn't transport back because of acceptance, instead doing a weird rooftop dance. I applaud the use of dancing, plus the abstract idea, but what the heck's even going on?
With Dilara back in the real world, the film has an abrupt ending. I don't mind us into getting a long wrap-up showing how everyone's doing. But I do mind not seeing how these experiences have changed her. We get a disquieting ending, with no moment of triumph or happiness. I had no idea what to make of it. Also, why is the crew wrapping up so quickly and leaving their actress in the dark?
The acting here is alright at best. Some performers do good jobs, others not so much. But my biggest criticism for the leading lady herself. I found her performance to be pretty bad! She does ok in some places, but in others she's hysterical. And how unlikeable the character is also affects her performance.
The score to Aaahh Belinda is perhaps its most interesting quality, both in a good way and bad. It's an intriguing listen, with moody synth tunes and ambient tracks. It builds up quite an ominous vibe, of something not quite right. Trouble is, it really doesn't fit the vibe this movie should be going for! It's just supposed to be about feminine self discovery, and yet the music sounds right out of Hotline Miami. The original film's TV jingle inspired soundtrack fit way better.
The direction here is well handled. The song and dance prologue is good, and there's a nice cab nightclub shot. I liked the ending shot with title, and how the men behind the original film are credited too. The lighting is cool, with a moody colour palette of neon orange and blue streetlight tinge. It's a little ill-fitting for this story, when compared to the original's more naturalistic lighting, but it looks neat all the same.
And lastly, the film gives us a fun anthropomorphic shampoo bottle costume, which I really appreciate. It's a nice connection with the old film.
Aaahh Belinda gets off to a rocky start, improves somewhat, then has a rocky final act. I think it does have its positives, but I didn't find it a particularly satisfying movie in its own right, and especially not as a remake. As always, stick with the original...