Monday, July 22, 2024

‘My Father’s Violin’ Needs to be Tuned

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My Father’s Violin could easily be considered inept had it not been for a handful of saving graces. A Turkish film about family and connecting after loss, it is also startling flat, both emotionally and in its imagery. That, at times, it manages to rise above its leaded tone is nothing short of remarkable.

Andac Haznedaroglu delivers a predictable but earnest melodrama concerning two estranged brother violinists — one a violin virtuoso, the other a street performer — and who is to raise little Ozlem (Gulizar Nisa Uray). Yet, despite My Father’s Violin’s many flaws, Haznedaroglu can pull some touching performances and, what’s more, doesn’t try to detract from them.

my father's violin
Mehmet (Engin Altan Duzyatan)

Ozlem’s father is Ali (Selim Erodgan), and they both play with a merry band of street musicians begging for money and outrunning the police. Mehmet (Engin Altan Duzyatan) is a famed violinist who has not spoken to Ali or is even aware of Ozlem. The plot isn’t that complicated, but alas, Palaspandiras’s script doesn’t bother to make it all that enjoyable.

The characters don’t talk in a way people actually speak. Instead, they speak in a way that stems from writers not knowing how to convey information to the audience. As a result, the conversations don’t feel as if people are talking to each other so much as the writer sitting the audience down and telling you things about the characters that would be better or more interesting to see for ourselves.

Granted, I can not tell if this is the translation’s fault, which can sometimes miss the intent of the dialogue and merely translate the literal words without care of anything that might get lost in translation. It could very well be that Palaspandiras’s dialogue is rife with wit; I cannot say for sure. I only know that the conversation, as it is given to us, is dull to both the eyes and ears.

It doesn’t help that the film flounders most when the characters are forced to speak. Duzyatan is an arresting presence and can project an outward serenity while hinting at a raging sea of emotion underneath. Still, he seems lost in the winds, both in his words and how the characters are often staged in a scene. Ozlem’s father Ali dies early in the film from one of those diseases characters often get in movies. The deadly and swift kind but whose only symptom is coughing up blood.

my father's violin
Mehmet (Duzyatan) and Ozlem (Gulizar Nisa Uray)

My Father’s Violin, seems at times like it wants to be a melodrama. Indeed, the wild switches of tone between scenes would seem to suggest that. But Hazendaroglu keeps everything so flat tonally and visually that it all comes off as bland. For example, there’s a scene towards the end that seems redundant. Everything being confronted in the scene has previously already been dealt with. It feels as if the film itself doesn’t understand that it doesn’t need to do this.

Had this been a melodrama, it would have seemed apropos. It would have seemed like the classic, last hurrah of drama before the final bow. Instead, it seems like manufactured drama, lifeless and meaningless, serving no purpose but to pad out the runtime.

Then there’s Suna (Belcim Bilgin), Mehmet’s distant wife, who begins to see Ozlem as the child they were never able to have. Bilgin’s warm and loving Suna is a natural partner to Duzyatan’s egocentric Mehmet in that she serves as a reminder of the love that was once there. Except halfway through the film, she leaves Mehemt without saying goodbye to Ozlem and reappears only after Mehmet has figured out everything with his life. 

my father's violin
Suna (Belcim Bilgin), Ozlem (Uray), and Mehmet (Duzyatan)

Poor Uray as Ozlem is given so little to do that she barely qualifies as a character. However, the scenes between Uray and Duzyatan are sweet. Uray has a natural sensibility to her, though it at times feels forced, and comes off like a real child rather than a movie’s idea of one.

Like everything else in the movie, the framework of My Father’s Violin and overarching drama falls flat. Yet, now and again, the film comes alive. Haznedaroglu may not fully understand how to stage his actors in a frame that doesn’t feel awkward, or even frame a scene that looks interesting. But, he does understand how to sit back and let the camera observe an actor’s face.

With Firat Lita Sozbir’s camera, they find moments of grace within Duzyatan’s sad soulful face. Combine this with how Haznedaroglu and Sozbir allow orchestral montages to tell the story and fill the screen with emotion that the script seems utterly devoid of, it’s a shame My Father’s Violin isn’t better.  

Still, Haznedaroglu manages to find little moments of truth, mainly in dealing with the abuse the two brothers suffered as children. The problem is, that story feels like an afterthought compared to everything else. It’s never fleshed out beyond an excuse to have a big emotional outburst.  

My Father’s Violin is a movie in which scenes follow one another with reason but without rhyme. It seeks to move, but, like its hero, it knows the notes but lacks the emotion to make them sing.

Images courtesy of Netflix

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