Best known for his Palme d’Or-winning turn in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Uzak (Distant, 2002), actor-turned-director Muzaffer Özdemir’s debut film Home (Yurt, 2011) is an introspective examination into the sustained cultural shift within modern Turkey, and the issues this raises for its people. Returning from Istanbul to his childhood village in the province of Gumushane, downhearted architect Doğan (Kanbolat Gorkem Arslan) is under doctor’s orders to take a brief sabbatical from his high-pressure job. It’s the perfect opportunity for Doğan to go back to his roots and hopefully find the origins of his existential funk.
However, the sprawl of globalisation is always one step ahead and even the idyllic refuge of his ancestral home is beginning to show signs of technological homogenisation, with the destructive presence of a hydroelectric plant now a cruel and unpleasant blot on this otherwise serene surroundings. The tranquil majesty of the Turkish steppes is handsomely captured by Özdemir in this deeply meditative allegory for the modernisation of both rural Turkey and the souls of its many inhabitants.
There’s an unquestionable authority behind Home’s rich imagery, capturing the essence of personal forfeiture and lonesomeness with an inherent longing for the seclusion and serenity of the natural world. Sadly, the formidable elegance of this imagery is as fleeting for the audience as the allure of the countryside is for Arslan’s Doğan, with even the most painterly-presented of vistas failing to fully seize our attention. What’s more, the refinement of Home’s inspiring cinematography (courtesy of Ilker Berke) is spoilt by an apprehensive narrative which lacks the subtlety we’ve come to expect from Turkish cinema, hand feeding us clues through transparent voiceovers and unnecessary television clips.
There’s no mystery or furtive source to Doğgan’s suffocating melancholy; just the withdrawn and despondent expression he arrives with. Whilst we can harvest the foundations of our protagonist’s depression through some critical investigation, Özdemir seems far more content to focus on the changing landscape that envelops him. There’s no denying that the film’s fluctuating natural surroundings are an organic metaphor for Doğan’s spiritual crisis – and vice versa. Yet, with no clear connection between the two it feels like a rather tenuous connection and an excuse for a noticeable lack of drama or palpable spectacle.
This unfocused, almost hesitant portrait of cultural identity lacks the thematic cohesion its lush aesthetics would suggest. A frustratingly insecure study of contemporary Turkey and its ongoing cultural shift into a more modern and westward-looking society, Home is certainly full of heart. Ultimately, however, it’s also severely lacking the clear and concise voice needed to make this handsome depiction of one man’s search for spiritual redemption anything other than a long-winded chore.