Wrong Rosary (Day 32)

Wrong Rosary

My Opinion: 7.5 || Very nice, quiet movie — sweet but not sappy, quiet but not sleepy, gentle but not soft. At every point when it seems we might be heading into familiar dramatic territory, the film heads in a more natural and affecting direction. This is patient, humble filmmaking that’s executed with a lovely touch.

TITLE: Wrong Rosary (Uzak Ihtimal)
DIRECTOR: Mahmut Fazil Coskun
YEAR: 2009
PROFILE: Drama | 90 | IMDb (6.9)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of Amazon Instant): Musa is assigned to a mosque in Istanbul as the new muezzin (person who leads calls to prayer). Trying to adjust to life in this big city, he meets one of his neighbors, the Catholic nurse Clara.

Strengths: The movie’s beauty stems from its delicacy, restraint, and attention to detail. I had concerns going in that it would be a formulaic romance or labored message-film about tolerance. In fact, the romance defies formula at every turn, particularly at the end, and the film exudes tolerance without ever telling us what to think. The story is slender — more a slice-of-life than a plot-driven narrative — but it never feels strained or inauthentic.

Wrong Rosary

There’s a wonderful sense of place throughout the film — not just Istanbul as a city but the everyday life of Muslims and (to a lesser extent) Christians in urban Turkey. Religion underlies everything in the film but never as an overt theme; rather, it’s there because it’s essential to the fabric of our characters’ lives. A very natural and textured portrayal of Muslim devotion and everyday life in Istanbul.

Weaknesses: Coskun might have done a bit more with the minimalist plot. I’m hesitant to say that because I do like the minimalism, but he could have delved a little deeper into the story and characters while still maintaining the wonderful tone. The minimalism is especially acute with Clara, who’s often more like a specter than a full character, even if there is much to like about that haunting, enigmatic quality.

Wrong Rosary

I also found the photography to be lackluster, but that may be the fault of the stream I was getting from Amazon, which was satisfactory but lacked sharpness. Finally, it’s a minor point, but Coskun makes such great use of ambient sounds that the intermittent score (appropriately spare and pretty cello) can seem a little “laid on.”

Characters/Performances: Coskun doesn’t explore the characters deeply, but what he does give us is rendered with great precision — it’s not a dazzling oil painting, it’s a deftly drawn sketch. The movie belongs to Nadir Saribacak as Musa, and it’s an engrossingly modest performance. His gentle manner and expressions set the tone for the entire film.

Best Moment: Even after all the genre-defying restraint we’ve seen throughout the film, the ending surprises with its achingly understated longing. Also deserving of praise is the point in the middle where it appears we’re arriving at a standard-issue “plot complication,” only to have Coskun once again go for subtlety and naturalness over typical movie plotting. Very nice. And finally: credit for the several lovely moments of Musa leading the calls to prayer.

Wrong Rosary

Meta Comment: This is my second Turkish film during this run, and I’m grateful for the good folks at the Turkish Film Channel for recommending it (and providing such good streaming resources). The similarities with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia are unmistakable — beautiful realism, patience, and true-to-life performances.

At this very early point in my trek through world cinema, Iranian and Turkish films (two each) lead the pack for consistent quality and artistic integrity.

File Under: religion, longing, Islam, books, gentle, understated