Cold

Cold1Uğur Yücel’s bleak Turkish drama is as chilly and forbidding as its snowbound setting.

COLD opens with an arresting and starkly beautiful shot of a frozen all-white landscape, silent and still. A  narrow track stretching into the distance and a crossing sign in the foreground are the only signs of human presence. Then a train barrels across the frame, breaking the silence. The camera pans after the train to follow the railway lines, settling on the lone figure standing by the track. It’s a deft introduction to our protagonist, a man whose life is as rigid and regimented as the train tracks he maintains.

Played by Cenk Medet Alibeyoğlu (discovered by the director while working in his local bar), Balabey is a dour, taciturn railway worker and family man. Constantly slumped into a posture of defeat, he is diffident to the point of near-total silence, with a thick bushy moustache hiding a large part of his face. His volatile, sharply-dressed brother Enver (Ahmet Rıfat Şungar) is his opposite number; their scenes together are coloured by mutual incomprehension. They live in a small remote town in the deep hinterlands where Turkey meets the Caucasus, permanently covered in snow. From the very opening, we are gradually immersed into this slow-moving world via a series of seemingly unconnected scenes. We see vignettes of Balabey and Enver’s home lives, as they navigate fractious relationships with their respective wives (who happen to be sisters) and go about the ordinary business of living.

One night Balabey agrees to go out with local big-shot Abbas (Rıza Sönmez) and his cronies. The group end up at Enver’s nightclub-cum-brothel with a trio of Russian prostitutes. After an awkward night with Irina (Valeria Skorokhodova), a spirited, joke-cracking woman, he grows more and more drawn to her, as attraction deepens into obsession.

Stupidity and recklessness shade into outright evil with a sickening inevitability.

Similar to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, Yücel uses lengthy static shots for a sense of understated naturalism. Often transitions between scenes are accompanied by shots from the train as it trundles through the snowy wilderness. This focus on movement, contrasted with a hidebound locale where everyone seems stuck in place, emphasises the immobility of the characters; from Balabey, stuck in his routine, to Irina and her sisters, who desperately want to leave.

As the plot progresses, cracks in the foundation of stability start to show. Irina aims to return to Russia, but Balabey cannot bear to lose her. While becoming increasingly neglectful of his heavily pregnant wife, he starts to resort to desperate measures to keep her around. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Enver has a cruel and misogynistic streak, as he starts mistreating his own spouse. The element of change introduced into Balabey’s staid lifestyle has an inevitable knock-on effect, as the disruptions ripple to the people around him.

The late-film shift into explicit horror and tragedy could seem gratuitous, if it were not rooted in the realism of the film’s earlier stretches. Stupidity and recklessness shade into outright evil with a sickening inevitability. There are few more terrifying scenes I’ve seen this year than Enver and his friend cracking jokes together moments after they decide to casually commit murder.

At the climax of the film, the sordid noirish tale is elevated to an elemental level, pitting brother against brother. The indelible final image of a once good man vanishing into the darkness puts an appropriately gloomy flourish on a downbeat story of lust, jealousy and murder amongst the snow.


Comments
One Response to “Cold”
  1. THE AGENT APSLEY says:

    H’mm…

    A comparison with the incomparably beautiful Anatolia seems quite unsuitable, and this film exploits exactly the same town / city as in Kosmos (2010), but with a wafer-thin plot, where the horror and tragedy and not just gratuitous, but sickeningly ludicrous choices.

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