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'Vavien': A masterpiece in black comedy

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/25/2009 12:00:00 AM |

In their third feature, directing duo Yağmur and Durul Taylan prove their authentic style in black comedy. Written by leading actor Engin Günaydın, ‘Vavien’ will move you with its subtle humor, beautiful dialogue and top-notch acting

The Taylan brothers, a directing duo that serves as Turkey’s answer to the Coen brothers, have been inching toward their masterpiece for the past five years. We have to wait and see if they will be able to surpass their recent gem, “Vavien.”

With “Okul” (School) in 2004 and “Küçük Kıyamet” (Little Apocalypse) in 2006, audiences saw the brothers’ natural talent for mind-play, even if it was not so subtle. In “Vavien,” they move confidently toward black comedy in a refined way.

“Vavien” is the story of a middle-class family in a small town in the Black Sea region. On the surface, it’s your typical Turkish family. The breadwinner, Celal (Engin Günaydın), goes about his business, trying desperately to find the next customer as the local electrician. Sevilay (Binnur Kaya) is the dutiful wife, clueless about the ups and downs of their marriage and life in general. Then there’s the neglected teenage son whose only concern is the teenage daughter next door, and occasional masturbation.

Some innocent and not-so-innocent family secrets are revealed slowly in the first half. In a secret stash, Sevilay collects the euros sent from her father in Germany. Celal is well aware of the money and secretly uses it to spend in the sleazy night clubs in the neighboring city of Samsun. Celal hides his vast collection of porn, unaware that his son has been educating himself with his father’s movies. Around the same time Celal discovers his son’s knowledge of his collection in a not-so-pleasant way, he decides to get rid of his wife for good.

Celal’s plan seems simple yet effective. He takes his family, his brother and some family friends on a picnic on the outskirts of the neighboring mountains. On their way back, he makes sure that the back door of the car is automatically opened so that Sevilay will fall off a cliff. Sevilay disappears during a stormy night, and Celal takes the money from his wife’s secret hiding place. The second half of the movie unfolds in an unexpected series of events.

[HH] From the European side to Anatolia

The Turkish audience will recognize Engin Günaydın and Binnur Kaya from the popular TV series “Avrupa Yakası” (The European Side) in roles that are totally opposite from the ones that are usually associated with them. The script was written by Günaydın himself, and his interest in casting himself and Kaya in the leading roles raised a few eyebrows. “Vavien,” however, shows that Günaydın’s instincts were very right in showing the audience both actors’ ranges.

The script seems to be the perfect vehicle for directors Yağmur and Durul Taylan to showcase their craft for building suspense that they hinted at in their previous films. “Vavien” doesn’t include any immediate surprises or big confrontations. Instead, it builds a strong story without any sense of urgency, only to break everything down slowly and gracefully. The film brings to mind the films of the other directing duo, the Coens, especially “Fargo.”

The two supporting characters – Settar Tanrıöğen as Celal’s brother and Serra Yılmaz, a regular of Ferzan Özpetek movies, as the female parliamentarian – do wonders in altering the pace of the movie and move the story beautifully whenever they enter the scene. We learn that “vavien” is an electrician’s term to explain the layout for switching on the same light from different locations. Pay attention to the scene when Celal explains what “vavien” is to his wife and the parliamentarian. At first glance unimportant, the scene becomes a turning point for the series of events that will unfold. The scene is a lesson in writing and directing.

Black comedy was never a strong suit for Turkish cinema. “Vavien” and the Taylan Brothers are about to change that.

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