A Film a Week - The Gulf / Körfez

There is a trend, I dare to say an alarming one, in contemporary films to portray an apathetic 30-something male usually of privilege of sorts protagonist as he finally faces his reality and tries to complete his “coming of age” that was interrupted somehow. Emre Yeksan’s debut feature The Gulf jumps on that train, but also toys with the ideas of family and neighbourhood dynamics, autobiographical elements, some real-life incidents and early stages of an apocalypse. It is an interesting mixture that does not always blend that well, there is plenty of material included that could comfortably stay on the floor of the editing room, while the slow pace and somewhat broken narrative do not help much.

The protagonist Selim (Ulaş Tuna Astepe) comes back to his hometown of Izmir after some career troubles and a devastating divorce he survived in Istanbul. His options are limited and the foundation of them all is the same: living with his parents who both have their quirks as most of the people of certain age do. Well, his father’s level of crazy is even above that and involves complicated legal and financial scams regarding his collapsing wood company and even a fake divorce. Selim is pretty unmotivated to work, but he enjoys his ritual of daily walks, where he meets Cihan (Ahmet Melih Yilmaz of Frenzy fame), a man who says he was his army buddy. Their friendship is budding, but there are some strange undertones about the whole thing as Cihan might be lying and also might have some sinister motives.

The central element of the plot is an accident in Izmir port that fills the air in the city with distinctive stench that does not get cleared in days. We gradually see the apocalypse creeping on the townsfolk of different classes (first the medical masks with some power cuts, then traffic jams and road blocks), as well as we see different people adjusting to the new state of things in different ways, from going to the mountains and weekend homes to organizing a parallel system within a system of ruling neighbourhoods. For Selim, however, the whole apocalypse thing is more of a catalyst for him getting to know himself better.

Some of the film components work perfectly, like the rich and detailed sound design, the non-invasive look into the class system, the realism of the family dynamics and one of the freshest takes on the “one who got away” cliché seen in cinema recently. Also, the irregularity of time passing shown via the title cards with the days of the week before every sequence is one of my personal highlights of the film. Also, the idea to have the slow-burning apocalypse is both intriguing and transferable to the absurdity of life (not just in Turkey, it is about the modern times in general). The incident in the port was a real-life event (it is not the only autobiographical element in the film), but on the symbolical level, it reminds us that no one is safe from the ecological catastrophe or technological breakdown or even some sort of WWIII. However, in its own tempo, with lots of repetitions and riddled with several completely nonsensical sequences, it seems like The Gulf is going nowhere. Slowly.

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