Dir.: Ozcan Alper; Cast: Berkey Ates, Cem Yigit Üzumoglu, Taner Birsel, Sibil Kekill, Pinar Deniz, Firat Kaymak; Turkey/ Germany/Netherlands/USA 2022, 113 min.
Turkish director/co-writer Ozcan Alper (Memories of the Wind) offers up a dispassionate and violent portrait of the Turkish countryside where prejudice combined with a toxic male superiority complex lead to an unpunished murder.
Told in parallel strands, the flashbacks of the original assassination and the attempt at atonement, seven years later, are brilliantly edited by Osman Bayraktaroglu and Umut Sakallioglu. During an opening shot, Ozcan Alper shows the group hysteria generated by the men’s hunting expedition. Their bloodlust, coupled with the promise of free meat, is a symbolic motif repeated in different variations through the feature.
Ishak (Ates) has been forced to go back to his village for the first time in seven years when his mother falls ill, having studiously avoided being there for his father’s funeral, a domestic tyrant who had beaten his whole family for decades. We soon learn another reason for Ishak’s reluctance to return:, the disappearance of his close friend Ali (Üzumoglu), a forest engineer. The exact circumstances are unclear as Ishak had fainted when he saw Ali’s bloodied-stained body.
So once the funeral is over, Ishak confronts his ‘friends’ demanding to know the truth. But they stonewall him and kill his faithful dog Clown. Ishak then visits the vagabond Ferhat (Birsel), who lives in the mountains where Ali disappeared, and Ferhat’s daughter Sirma (Kekill), a university lecturer in Germany. In flashback we watch Ali giving Maths lessons to Sultan (Deniz), a young woman from the village who had been sent out to find out ‘if her teacher was gay’, something everyone – apart from Ishak – had agreed on. It was clear that Ali and Sultan clearly fancied each other so Ishak asks her why she ended up marrying the abusive Nurettin (Imer), who she could not stand before Ali’s disappearance. Searching in the nearby caves for Ali’s body, Ishak finds a note giving him an exact location in a cave. It then emerges that a possible reason for Ali’s disappearance was that he was murdered by the villagers for destroying the traps they had laid out to catch wildlife : this way of poaching was forbidden by law. So they conjured up a rumour that he was either gay or taking advantage of a local woman.
Towering panoramic shots, a signature of Turkish cinema, showcase the majestic beauty of surrounding landscape. But for some, namely the villagers, the countryside is just a killing field where they hunt their forbidden prey, driving it to a cruel death. DoP Imer’s cave images are particularly special, reminiscent of El Buco. Powerful and uncompromising, Oczan Alper shows how personal gain turns into violent political mechanics.
BLACK NIGHT is Turkish cinema at its best, visually impressive and relevant, a much deserved winner at the National feature film Competition of the Golden Orange Festival in Antalya, where his feature garnered Best Screenplay and Best Film. AS