Saf (2018)

ALI VATANSEVER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.  //, 2018.  , , .  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Production Design by , . Costume Design by Film Editing by .  Toronto International Film Festival 2018.

Kemil () is struggling to find work to support himself and his wife Remziye (), who works as a housekeeper for a wealthy woman in the city; Kemil almost gets a job with a property development company but loses his chance when he breaks up a fight between the firm’s hiring manager and a Syrian immigrant.  Now even more desperate to find employment, Kemil agrees to work for the construction company on a graveyard shift despite not having a licence to operate the forklift, and it puts him in very serious conflict on all sides: his suburban Istanbul neighbours opposes the company’s plans to tear down their houses and build condo buildings that they can’t afford to live in, the job he gets was previously occupied by a Syrian who worked off the grid for low wages and is now very angry about it, and Kemil can’t afford the course that will get him the right licence to do his job on the record and in daylight.  After a devastating choice made in the second act, Remziye takes over the narrative and provides the better half of a film that writer-director Ali Vatansever only sometimes manages to make feel like good drama and not a preachy lesson in global politics (whose groan-inducing title in Turkish means “pure”).  A number of turns in the plot are painfully on the nose (Kemil takes a job away from a the people he saved from violent oppression) that only highlight the film’s self-righteous hypocrisy (the Syrian characters have little in the way of personality and are treated merely as narrative symbols).  Afsin’s blank facial expression and the character’s weak inner life make him difficult to keep our attention on, but focusing on Aksoy in the second half is a wise choice and is where the film comes to life.  Her captivating dramatic skills combined with Vatansever’s treating her like an actual person, and not a strategy, make her the film’s main reward.

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