Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cöl (1983)

aka The Desert

aka Turkish Jaws (though it really, truly, is not)

Unfortunately, this film isn't available in subtitled form and my Turkish is still non-existent, so I won't be able to go into the intricacies of its plot. Fortunately, my experience with Turkish pop cinema tells me that there might not be any intricacies to go into or if they do indeed exist, understanding the dialogue might not help comprehending them at all. And really, what's more important in the end - plot or Cüneyt Arkin kicking people in places politeness doesn't allow me to mention?

What I do understand of the plot is the following: Cüneyt Arkin is the manliest man on Earth and goes around a Turkish coastal town, killing bad people. He's quite excellent at it, too. When he's not murdering people left and right, Arkin plays with his sunglasses like the cooler brother of David Caruso in that TV show about fascist killer commandos in Miami.

After some more killing and punching, Arkin hides out on a ship that is anchored close to the coast and belongs to an older friend of his and that friend's son(?). There, he has time to rest and have flashback nightmares to the terrible things the bad guys have done to him, namely torturing him, killing his mother and/or wife and separating him from his dog. Unless the boy in the flashbacks isn't supposed to be a young Arkin. In that case, they also did something terrible to his son.

In the present, our hero also finds time to romance Emel Tümer, who likes to stand on rocks, wearing a bikini with great talent.

But Arkin can't have too much peace, so his captain friends betrays him. For money, it looks like. Yet not even being tied to a piece of wood and being set adrift on the ocean can keep a real man from his vengeance, even when he has to fight an adorable plastic shark to get to it.

Cetin Inanc-directed films featuring Turkey's action hero number one Cüneyt Arkin are the movie version of having a mad guy from the street break into your flat and shout at you for seventy minutes while an old-fashioned boom box screams someone's favourite music at you. From time to time a car races through your living room. It might be a bit frightening at first, but it sure doesn't lack in excitement.

The four things Inanc likes most in life are low-angled shots, uncomfortably close close-ups, shaking his camera in the air like he just don't care and Arkin punching/kicking the camera. That doesn't mean the director has no eye for emotionally meaningful framing and composition at all. He just prefers to use outlandish yet clever ways to shoot a scene, as long as the set-up is quickly done and cheap enough to be do-able in five minutes and with no equipment to speak of. This lends Cöl the hysterically dynamic feel typical of the better part of Turkish popular cinema of this era, a style of filmmaking that isn't so much "point and shoot on amphetamines" as in the 70s anymore as it is "scream and shake and sometimes pretend you're an arthouse movie on amphetamines".

Apart from the screaming (and a bit of shooting, and car stunts), the film also delivers some of the most ridiculously awesome sped-up non-Kung Fu fights with asynchronous sound effects ever committed to celluloid. It looks like all the energy missing from boring US martial arts movies has landed in Turkey and won't leave until Cüneyt Arkin has rammed a piece of wood he's carrying in his mouth through someone's throat. That's not a metaphor, by the way.

Of course, the violent exploits of Arkin aren't all that Cöl excites with. There's also some expert, yet random low-angled bikini booty shaking at the camera by Tümer. But don't worry, the camera is shaking too; I suspect out of sheer exuberance about having! a! woman! (actually even two)! in! its! view!. And there are also at least five continuous minutes in which our hero doesn't shoot, kick or hit anyone and instead has his camera-shaking nightmares of the terrible things the bad guys did to him and his family before he can go and kill a few more people or a poor helpless plastic shark, so there are sped-up attempts at character depth too.

No Turkish movie made before the 90s would of course be complete without needle-dropped music. This time, it's a bit of the soundtracks of various Jaws movies, some rockin' guitar music and a whole lot of Eye of the Tiger. The film uses its stolen soundtrack in a way that seems at once cool and utterly ridiculous, without a care about cheesiness, copyright laws or good taste.

In this, as in a lot of other aspects, Cöl reminds me heavily of the music of Thin Lizzy. That is to say, it is at once idiotically macho and completely conscious of how much of its machismo is a lie and a ridiculous, untenable-in-real-life pose, yet can still revel in it without getting all campy and ironic on its audience.


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