Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Berlinale 2011, Day 7, Competition: Our Grand Despair, Seyfi Teoman, Germany/ Turkey/ Netherlands 2011

The film team of Our Grand Despair as they enter the Berlinale Palace. In the centre: Gunes Sahin, who plays Nahil. To her left: Seyfi Teoman, the director, and to her right Ilker Aksum who plays Ender and next to him Fatih Al who plays Cetin.

Since Our Grand Despair begins with a funeral wake I naturally assumed Seyfi Teoman's film to be about loss and bereavement, hence the film's title ... or so I thought. Later, when the two male leads - Ender and Cetin - confess their love for Nahil, the young woman they are supposed to look after following the fatal accident of her parents, to each other, I decided that the main point Teoman was trying to make was how two male friends come to terms with falling for the same woman. However, towards the end of the film it dawned on me that Teoman's film is none of all that, and although there are certainly some elements of the above in it, it is, first and foremost, a story about a friendship. A friendship between two men, to be precise. I can't put my finger on the exact moment, but somewhere along the line I was suddenly reminded of Claude Sautet's masterpiece, Cesar et Rosalie, and that's when I realised that similar to Sautet's film, Teoman's, too, is basically an homage to male bonding. And a beautiful friendship it is indeed. Ender and Cetin are forever seen eating, cooking, reading, chewing the fat, going on weekend trips together, and not even their - in both cases unrequited - love for the same woman can throw a wedge between them. Quite to the contrary, for in some of the film's most hilarious moments, Ender and Cetin drool over Nahil - to each other. Although well into their thirties, they behave like teenage school boys when it comes to Nahil and the way she walks, talks or does other perfectly ordinary things. Teoman's camera follows them, observes them, and in spite of the prevailing placidity in Our Grand Desapir, there are quite a few comic moments. Yet when we do laugh, it is with Ender and Cetin, and never at them. Not once does Teoman betray his characters, Nahil included. Nahil, who seems to be the epitome of innocence, until we learn that she's actually pregnant - though neither from Cehin nor Ender. But so great and pure is their love for her that they even offer to locate a doctor to take care of it.

I have to admit that it was more in hindsight that I began to fully appreciate this quiet, contemplative, film in which nothing much happens but which nevertheless is a beautiful homage to friendship, love, and life itself.

The film team of Our Grand Despair on the stage of the Berlinale Palace following the screening: