Thursday, August 23, 2007
DVD Review: KARANLIK SULAR
aka THE SERPENT'S TALE
Directed by Kutlug Ataman
Starring Gonen Bozbey and Daniel Chace
Available from Onar Films!
Now this one was a little different. Not the sort of Turkish delight we usually expect from the ever-dependable Onar Films, but it's a highly interesting and yes, weird little film worth taking a peek at. You’ll just have to realize that it’s extremely far from the sort of interesting and weird Turkish films we normally cover here at this site. KARANLIK SULAR is a heady, twisting art-horror hybrid that takes as its theme nothing less than the meaning of life and death. You won't get that from a Cetin Inanc movie! However, while lovingly assembled, this disc falls a bit short of the glorious highs that Onar have provided us with over the last couple of years, with both the movie and its presentation faltering somewhat. But then again, you won't likely see anything like it again any time soon, so let's jump in ...
KARANLIK moves at an odd elliptical pace. It never settles into anything like a routine linear narrative and keeps you constantly guessing at both its plot and meaning. Unfortunately perhaps the movie remains a bit too mysterious and eventually comes across as somewhat unfocused. The plot unravels a tale involving an ancient and powerful manuscript that, when properly translated, reveals the secrets of obtaining eternal life. But of course this knowledge comes at a terrible cost. Not too surprisingly many parties are interested in the script from an 800 year old Byzantine princess to (in the movies most interesting aspect) a multinational corporation. The manuscript is in the possession of a young Turkish man who appears actually to have died either two years before or maybe twenty years earlier in one of the film's many confusing plot twists. Numerous subplots converge around this young man, including his grieving mother, her greedy gentleman caller, an American who is both an "economic hit man" and an actual hit man, a mad bearded prophet dude who wants to use the forbidden knowledge to conquer the world with a new religion and the aforementioned Byzantine princess who has the appearance of an 8-year old girl and is a vampire. The strands, while fascinating for the most part, never satisfactorily coalesce into a fully intriguing film experience. Eventually it curves back into itself, like an Orobouros, revealing a meta-textual structure that does very little to resolve the story in your mind. But it's a unique trip nonetheless.
The film does boast many haunting visuals, in particular making great use of Istanbul's ancient architecture which also ties in with the film's many themes. This includes the history and identity of Turkey itself, where it’s going and where it’s been, with various ethnic, religious and political streams weaving into one another. Making sense of this jumble is one of the major points of this film and maybe its refusal to bring all the elements together is structurally inherent. Certainly there are many themes and ideas which fly straight over my head, and probably the head of anyone not extremely well versed in Turkish history. The occultic elements are also strong though somewhat intentionally obscure and scattershot. Overall one is reminded of other early 90s art-horror experiments such as Michelle Soavi's DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, Alejandro Jodorowsky's SANTE SANGRE and Richard Stanley's DUST DEVIL but KARANLIK SULAR never gets quite up to the heights achieved by those late masterpieces.
While the movie is at least an imaginative curiosity, Onar presentation of it is somewhat lacking. One would have to assume that they simply made use of what they were given, as it seems the DVD was sourced from a video betamaster and not actual filmic elements. There are a few instances even of tape damage but these are quick and fleeting and don’t interfere too much with the viewing enjoyment. A greater problem is the burned in English subtitles, which are on occasion rather hard to read, especially if there is even the slightest hint of white on the screen anywhere near them. Overall the colors seem a bit drab and it seems a little too dark for most of the running time. While this is expected with most Turkish films up through the 1980s, one would think that this film would have better preserved elements, if not a negative then perhaps at least a theatrical print with which to work. But giving Onar the benefit of the doubt, we must presume that this is all there is at this time and so be thankful that it exists at all. Like I said, although of negligible entertainment value KARANLIK SULAR is a highly odd and unique movie and worthwhile in any condition for that reason.
Onar have provided a host of fine extras to complete the package, the most substantial of them being a long video interview with director Kutlug Ataman who discusses at length his influences both from Turkish history and European art cinema. He also claims not to care much for Turkish Fantastic Cinema but does like Troma films! Weird dude. But it’s informative and helps to shed light on the purpose of the movie itself. Other features include still galleries, brief cast and crew bios and filmographies, exerts from critical notices of the film and the usual bunch of Onar trailers. The packaging and menu designs are top notch and with each release Onar seems to jump light years ahead in terms of the aesthetics and slickness of these important features. While I was not bowled over by the movie, this release is of value for those seeking oddities of world art and/or horror cinema. It hard to imagine anyone else giving this kind of TLC to such and obscure and complex film, so Onar must be commended for that. But personally I can’t wait for them to get back to the purer thrills of the incredible pop cinema treasure from the great land of Turkey. There should be more very soon! Watch this space for more info!