Isztambul (2011) – A Film Review
Bear with me on this one. This is a Hungarian film about how a middle-aged woman reacts to being left by her husband. However, this protagonist is played by Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege who does not speak any Hungarian (one of the most difficult European languages to learn, by the way). Hence, it was necessary to re-work the screenplay so that she has virtually no lines, save for some basic dialogue in broken English or German. Not only that, the actor playing her daughter’s husband is Irish. While it is obvious that he does not speak any Hungarian either, at least actor Padraic Delaney’s character is not masquerading as a native of the country! Further complicating matters, then, is that half of the film is shot in Istanbul, which features a blatant plug from the Turkish tourist board to go visit the magical region of Cappadocia.
Welcome to the world of the “Europudding”, where so many independent films have to contort themselves in extraordinary ways in order to secure the vital foreign funding needed for their successful realisation!
The funny thing is that this film still interests on two levels. Firstly, there is the technical fascination with how writer/director Ferenc Török manages to work all of these challenges into this offering and still pull off a work of reasonable coherency. Indeed, one trick that he employs is to make the central character of Katalin go mute with the shock of her husband unexpectedly announcing that he is now in love with someone else. Presented as a form of mental breakdown, it makes for a curious occurrence, especially as she then “goes on the run” to Istanbul. Here, she meets Halil (Yavuz Bingol) and, with any risk of this being a nasty dose of the Shirley Valentines swiftly averted, their relationship proves to be a pleasingly sentimental highlight of this somewhat hotch-potch offering.
Indeed, this review wishes to pay tribute to Mr. Török for being prepared to depict a credible and touching middle-aged relationship between two very ordinary looking people, with Halil having grown paunchy and Katalin unable to mask her wrinkles any longer. Moreover, it gently skates out onto the ice of what it is like for a family man in modern-day Turkey to risk an affair with a foreign woman. Unfortunately, though, this is not a theme that is pursued to the extent that would have made it meaningful. Instead, for those with some patience and generosity of spirit, this proves to be a simple but surprisingly rewarding film… of the accidental kind!