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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Review: La Belle Indifference


- Kıvanç Sezer returns to Karlovy Vary with a biting critique of the alienation of the Turkish 1%

GoCritic! Review: La Belle Indifference

Two years after his debut feature My Father's Wings [+see also:
film review
interview: Kivanc Sezer
film profile
contended for the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary, writer-director Kıvanç Sezer returns to the competition with La Belle Indifference. The dark comedy, which continues Sezer’s ongoing examination of contemporary Turkish dilemmas carries itself with great panache. It has everything to become a crowdpleaser for those who like their laughs dry and offbeat.

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In the 94-minute production, Sezer zooms in on the life of Onur (Alican Yücesoy), a top executive at a pharmaceutical company in Istanbul, and his wife Bahar (Başak Özcan Sezer). The couple lives a comfortable life in a high-rise condo until he loses his job during a corporate shake-up; this puts them on separate paths.

Faced with upheavals that challenge all the things that he took for granted, Onur retreats into a fantasy world where he can sleep in giant boxes of pills and talk to zebras. The screenplay is unclear about whether or not these scenarios are side-effects of a drug he takes — one marketed by his previous employer — but that's not the point Sezer's trying to make.

Instead, his target is the inability of certain people, especially the privileged, to cope with reality. Due to this condition — “la belle indifference” of the film’s international title — Onur gives free rein to lunacy and even embraces pointless belief systems, such as a particularly dodgy coaching course, in order not to tackle his real issues.

His counterpoint is Bahar, who sees how grave the situation is from the get-go and tries to get her husband back to his senses — to no avail. However, like many wives in fiction (and in real life, for that matter), her sensible pleas are downplayed as nagging, attributed to her personal traits and ultimately ignored.

Divided into seven clear and titled chapters, La Belle Indifference shows a lot of stylistic flair without losing sight of its characters. This means that, while the delirious sequences are not as anarchic as they could be, the film remains a fun watch for fans of humour of embarrassment as well as grounded in reality.

His work with director of photography Hatip Karabudak renders Istanbul in soft lighting, peppered with bright colours - seemingly oblivious to the protagonist's dark night of the soul. In collaboration with editor Selda Taşkın, they allow for extended shots that reveal how many situations involving the couple are close to the edge. Lengthy scenes, such as a taxi-ride in the early stages and a dinner they have with two friends later on, run without cuts and emphasise much of the social discomfort Sezer aims to evoke.

While his style of comedy does bring to mind what made the Palme d'Or-winning The Square special, Sezer's take on the strangeness of daily life is almost diametrically opposite to Ruben Östlund's. Whilst the Swede portrayed a world in which everyone has quietly but unmistakably lost it, the normality of almost everything around Onur highlights his disintegrating state of mind.

The film’s original title - Küçük Şeyler - translates as "little things", which is where the heart of this film lies. For all its zaniness, La Belle Indifference serves as a portrait of marital miscommunication happening in slow motion, as small steps eventually lead to radio silence. Once it hits, not even the zebras dare to make a sound.

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