Melih Selçuk, Basak Köklükaya, Riza Akin, Saadet Isil Aksoy, Tülin Özen, Alev Uçarer / Fiction / Turkish
An aspiring writer balances the demands of family, art and growing up.
Milk is an austere picture. Kaplano?lu's long-take style, resolutely contemplative pacing, and broad preference for dream-like symbolism over the mechanics of narrative make Milk as demanding as it is rewarding. It's much more richly surreal than Angel's Fall (EIFF 2005), his beautiful elegy about a young woman's violent rebellion. The opening scene is profoundly startling. An old man scribbles on a scrap of paper, while others prepare a fire under a tree. On the fire, they place a cauldron of milk; the man drops his scrit in it. When it boils, they suspend an anxious woman from the tree by her feet, so the milk vapour envelops her head. Then, the old man drags a living serpent from her mouth… While it's not directly a part of the main narrative, this unsettling exorcism establishes a context of place and symbol that will inform everything that follows. This is a rustic world in which magic is not dead, where Edenic symbolism plays a powerful and literal role, and where quotidian substances retain mystical potency. Milk is part two of a trilogy, which Kaplano?lu is filming in reverse order (the final chapter, already complete, is Egg from 2007). The current instalment sees the protagonist Yusuf (newcomer Melih Selçuk) as a young man and would-be poet, still living with his single mother Zehra (Basak Köklu?kaya – Hamam; A Touch of Spice). The two scrape a living by selling milk and cheese to the locals. It's a hard life, but in many ways idyllic for the complacent Yusuf, who enjoys his mother's undivided attention and home-cooked meals. Zehra's budding romance with a stationmaster, however, disrupts Yusuf's sheltered world – as does his own experience of epilepsy. There follows a hallucinatory coming of age episode, in which Yusuf ensnares a giant catfish and brings it to his seemingly oblivious mother … his unhinged id overwhelms his experience of the 'real' world. By rendering this psychological eruption in highly literal fashion, Kaplano?lu draws us right to the core of the young poet's visionary experience. More surreal than Ceylan, harder than Erdem – this strange, fascinating film confirms Semih Kaplano?lu as a distinctive and essential voice in The New Turkish Cinema.
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