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STUDIO: Koch Lorber Films
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
• Interview with the director
God has bills to pay and he knows just the man to help.
Starring Erkan Can, Guven Kirac and Meray Ulgen
Written by: Onder Cakar
Directed by: Ozer Kiziltan
An intriguing, if slow, meditation on religion and man that does nothing extraordinary, but finds its beauty in the everyday trappings of life as personified by its naive main character, who must wrestle with both his desires as a man and his adherence to his Muslim faith. Difficult to take down, but worth it if you can manage through.
There is one word that is never mentioned during the 96 minute running time of ‘Takva’: terrorism. So many films, both domestic and foreign, dealing with Muslims and Islamic culture often feel the need to deal with that dirty word at some point, even if it’s just a tertiary scene apart from the main storyline. Now, whether films do this because terrorism is how America, the number 1 market, sees Muslim or if it’s just a natural every day part of life in most countries, I do not know, but I do know that I have rarely, if ever, seen an ordinary man go through completely ordinary days that are set in an Islamic country.
Some might say he’s too ordinary. Muharrem (Erkan Can) is a sheepish, shy but very capable man who just never exerted himself to be anything more than he is. He is content with his low lot in life, spending his time in devout appreciation and reverence of god (for what I imagine is a pay off in the next life). His faith is tested when he is asked by his local mosque to stay with them and ‘help do god’s work’. Upon arrival, he discovers that while the mosque dishes out spirituality, it’s got bills to pay and bills to collect. It’s easy to be righteous when it’s just you, when your decisions only affect you, but when you suddenly wield power over the lives of others, evict this one, give this one more time, suddenly it’s harder to live a totally righteous life. Sacrifices must be made and Muharrem must wrestle with these collisions of faith and worldly issues. This is a guy who repents to Allah for having a wet dream, so he’s wound up inside already, after all.
Erkan Can, who picked up several international acting awards for this film, is a portrait of every day-ness. Muharrem clearly carries much weight on his shoulder, but Can crafts a character who is a bit funny, a bit smart, very much overwhelmed and very, very human. Religion is an ideal, it’s something they tell you in church, but they never quite teach you how to balance the idea of god and spirituality with your very human desires. Muharrem is a mess of contradictions, as are we all, caught between two worlds, the mortal world, symbolized by his boss at the sack warehouse Muharrem works at and the sheik who operates the mosque. But as Muharrem begins to delve deeper into both worlds, he discovers that they are not so far removed from one another and striking the balance between the two is not an easy task. For Muharrem, the task is too much, I am sad to say and the film ends on a down note.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a “ignorant” American, but I am no gauge of acting ability when it comes to foreign films. ‘Takva’ features, I believe, superb acting all around. Every character from Rauf, the cosigliere to the sheik to the guy who makes coffee for Muharrem’s boss is a fully realized character regardless of how much screen-time he has. Guven Kirac as Rauf earns a special recommendation as the man whom Takva is supposed to be: spiritual, wise, yet still grounded in our world and keen to the wants, needs and desires of humanity.
Though the film is 96 minutes, it feels long and it takes a while to finally get moving and although you are looking for a twist, turn or otherwise shocking moment, you will not find it. It’s not that kind of movie; it is told very straight forward and it leaves it all up on the screen, for good or bad. And then it simply ends, nothing is resolved, perhaps a comment on man and the world, or merely lazy film-making, but it ends and you’re left to ponder ‘huh?’. Plots are left wide open and the slow pacing dulls Muharrem’s inevitable crisis of faith; we just want it to be over by that point and it takes its sweet time in coming to fruition that we’re left with far more questions than answers.
Visually, director Ozar Kiziltan and DP Soykut Turan find an ‘average beauty’ in the broken down, dilapidated cobblestone streets of Turkey. Filled with greys and dull blues, snow and ash, the scenery plays as much a part of the film as the characters. It screams ‘poor and worn out’, even the mosque, the central pillar in the community, is full of holes and falling apart. But inside the grey walls, there is human life and human hope, a wonderful juxtaposition that effectively comes across on film.
‘Takva: A Man’s Fear Of God’ is a hard shell to crack, but cracking it reveals some wondrous, sometimes terrible truths that I think we need to remember every now and then: we’re only human, be sure to enjoy this world while you’re in it. No need to fear god, nor is there any reason to blindly submit to him at the detriment to your own life.
The film features an intriguing interview with the director that behind the scenes nuts should find satisfying as well as the theatrical trailer. English subtitles are present, but if you want it something else, tough.