Director: Belmin Söylemez
Writer: Belmin Söylemez, Hasmet Topaloglu
Stars: Sanem Öge, Senay Aydin, Ozan Bilen
Runtime: 110 min.
In recent decades, Turkish female filmmakers have strived to take back a medium that has been primarily dominated by men. Such a movement has allowed for a whole new set of Turkish perspectives that not only reflect the voices of a once silent group, but reflect a whole new side of filmmaking. Present Tense is the first feature-length film from Belmin Söylemez, who is better known for her documentaries. In the film, Söylemez creates a realistic image of Istanbul where characters roam in search of acceptance, love, and control of their own lives.
The film tells the story of Mina (Sanem Öge), a woman living a solitary life in Istanbul. Like many others, Mina is unemployed, and living in a building that is set to be turned into a luxury hotel. While avoiding eviction notices, she aimlessly searches for work with hopes of getting the necessary papers to procure an American visa. When she lies about being an experienced fortune-teller, she is hired in a tiny cafe, where she assists an all-female clientele. The film opens a window into her desires, deceptions, and hopes for the future, as she moves in a never-ending present.
Present Tense could be called a formally dry film. The dialogue is not excessive, and most of it is delivered calmly. There is no music throughout the entire film, only a few sounds used in sparse and brief moments. Costume and makeup are simple, the mise-en-scène, in general, could be described as austere. This technique sets the mood for a contemplative, yet thoroughly insightful, way of storytelling that utilizes the fortune-telling as a window into Mina’s own life. Through the fortunes of her clientele, spectators learn about Mina’s past and present. Although this information is revealed slowly, the compelling visuals of the film make the journey worthwhile, and the viewer can enjoy simply staring at the beautiful shots of the settings. Present Tense demands a certain patience that could dissuade many a viewer,but its slow pace is highly rewarding to those willing to enjoy a more stagnant form of filmmaking.
Sanem Öge’s performance as Mina is what really brings this film to life. Present in nearly every shot of the film, Öge shows incredible consistency and intensity. Although Mina is quiet and reserved, a successful bond between protagonist and viewer is created, and the desire for Mina to succeed is prevailing throughout the duration of the film. Öge’s talent is not the only thing that brings the film together; her striking features also compliment the film visually, adding to the already stunning shots in which she contrasts with the city’s landscape. The chemistry she shares with fellow actors Senay Aydin (Fazi) and Ozan Bilen (Tayfun) is also a notable aspect of the story. Their relationship is as raw, complicated, and strangely detached as any relationship in reality. Their interactions with each other are what make the film as relatable as it is, and it is easy to see a reflection of oneself in any of these characters.
As rewarding as this film is through acting and visuals, it lacks a sense of completion. This feeling is perhaps a tool used in order to intensify the sense of uncertainty and loneliness that Mina’s life already carries, but it somehow leaves the spectator with a lot of questions that will never be answered. Although this type of ending pleases some viewers, to others it could prevent complete enjoyment of the film.
Present Tense is definitely worth watching if one is on the lookout for new talent or insight into Turkish filmmaking. Although slow-paced, it is visually compelling, and its actors deliver performances worth watching. The film is certainly a great representation of a medium that will hopefully attract viewers into exploring new sides of Turkish cinema.
Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival