Round-up of 2013 Istanbul Autumn Film Week

The first week of October has seen culture-curious Istanbulites torn in multiple directions, as the extensive 13th Istanbul Biennial, amongst countless other art spaces, have re-energised their content by embracing the tone of creative dissent that this summer’s political happenings have sparked. However, interest for the Autumn Film Week has not ebbed; now in its 12th year, this small festival gives film-goers a fantastic selection of independent world cinema, and the year’s Cannes favourites, to keep audiences going until April’s veteran Istanbul International Film Festival. Here are our top five must-see films from the 2013 Istanbul Autumn Film Week.

1. David Lowery, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
Lowery’s poetic and visually-nuanced depiction of what is a classic, even predictable, love story set in 1970s rural Texas makes a lasting impression on the senses. A crime melodrama that never reveals the nature of the crime committed, it follows Ruth as she waits in uncertainty for Bob, the father of her child, to return from prison. Cinematography is painstakingly delicate and studied; a true example of empathetic camera work in terms of focus pulling, framing, and pacing, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints highlights the visual representation of emotional cadence and complexity. The poetry belying ordinary lived experience is this film’s striking feature, taking viewers beyond what the characters did or what will happen to them.

2. James Franco, As I Lay Dying (2013)
Adapted from the 1930 novel by William Faulkner, James Franco’s anticipated adaptation of As I Lay Dying is as gritty, moody and communicative on its own terms as its deeply rural setting and stream-of-conciousness source material suggests. A farming family attempting to fulfill their mother’s dying wishes turns into a journey of strife and unresolved family tensions, betrayals and histories. These rituals of death and burdens of kinship are complimented by cinematography and sound that mimic the ebb and flow of the power natural elements hold over rural life. The novel’s multiple perspective has at times resulted in self-conciously cryptic dialogue, but its bare aesthetic remains intruigingly stark rather than deliberately arthouse.

3. Onur Ünlü, Thou Gilds’t the Even (2013)
Amongst the Turkish art cinema on offer, Onur Ünlü’s Thou Gilds’t the Even has been singled out by critics this year, and with good reason. Original and moving, an unremarkable story of small town mentalities, societal censure and family traumas is transformed in a quietly ironic narrative, reminiscent of Marquez’s magical realism. We follow fragile Cemal and secretive Yasemin’s life as newlyweds in a small Aegean village in an Othello-esque unfolding of unfounded jealousies. Singular and strong light sources, always effective in black and white film, result in a studied search in every frame for form that compliments narrative. The gently surrealistic tone culminates in an unexpected ending that leaves the viewer affected and appreciative.

4. Ari Folman, The Congress (2013)
Inspired by the novel by Stanislaw Lem but chaotically and boldly holding its own, The Congress, from Waltz With Bashir director Ari Folman, merits singling out for its disorienting and effective blend of animation and live action. Robin Wright, playing herself, is offered a final contract – Hollywood will scan her identity and simulate her ever-youthful self in future films. The age of such trappings as free will and consent has long gone. Enter a plotline about a Huxley-esque animated future of hallucinogens and designer selfhoods, and the questions raised and criticisms hurled are too numerous to handle at any significant depth. However, such touch-and-go treatment adds to the tongue-in-cheek, parodying feel of a script that accusatorily reveals, then challenges, our expectations of closure within filmic convention.

5. Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox (2013)
Neither cinematically avant-garde nor narratively unusual, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox nonetheless is a little gem that reminds audiences of the power of film in unearthing the humourous, brave and sorrowful cadences of ordinary life. A story of two lonely people whose lives unexpectedly collide, it unpretentiously encapsulates how we rely on and yet remain blind to one another in the modern isolation of a metropolis. Indirectly finding each other through the Dabbahwallahs, or the efficient network of those delivering lunchboxes to offices, the two lead actors embody the film’s sustained pursuit of delicate and even accidental contacts. The frank depiction of modern Mumbai and the lack of cultural screen-fillers is equally refreshing to see, capturing an organic balance between neither exoticising nor universalising the contemporary Indian urban experience.

Sarah Jilani

1. David Lowery, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013).