Category Archives: Ferzan Ozpetek

Saturn in Opposition (2007)

 “Rules exist even in relationships.”

In Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro), director Ferzan Ozpetek creates a vibrant, vital film that deals with issues such as friendship, death, loss and grief. The film quickly establishes the relationships between a close-knit group of friends and then charts what happens when tragedy strikes.

saturn-in-oppositionSuccessful writer Davide (Pierfrancesco Favino) lives with his lover Lorenzo (Luca Argentero). Others in the group include Davide’s ex-lover, Sergio (Ennio Fantastichini), married couple Neval (Serra Yilmaz) and Roberto (Filippo Timi), and successful therapist Angelica (Margherita Buy) and her husband, banker Antonio (Stefano Accorsi). Also in the group is the troubled, coke sniffing, pill-popping Roberta (Ambra Angiolini) and newcomer, doctor and budding writer Paolo (Michelangelo Tomasso). All these characters are introduced within the first minutes of the film, and it’s a bit overwhelming to absorb who they all are and their significance to one another, but no matter. Once the first few minutes of the film are over, not too many new characters are added, so it’s possible to settle in and just watch and enjoy this sensitive portrait of friendship.

In adversity, some of these relationships are stretched to the limit, and sadly already-strained relationships cave in under the pressure. Just how these characters offer support and love is the substance of the film that showcases Ozpetek regulars.

Ultimately this is not my favourite Ozpetek film, but then again there’s some stiff competition. I’d rank this one probably my least favourite with the following order: Steam, Facing Windows, Harem Suare, His Secret Life, and now Saturn in Opposition in last place. In some ways, Saturn in Opposition reminds me of His Secret Life–a death, and the friends who form an ad-hoc family of characters.

I loved the scenes that depicted Antonio and Angelica’s children. The parental presence seems largely absent in this home, and instead the daughter dominates and terrorises her younger brother. Clearly the adults in the film prefer each other’s company with the children left–more or less–to their own devices. Friendship–rather than familial connections dominate here, and this is underscored by Lorenzo’s father and stepmother’s visit. They remain largely ignorant of Lorenzo’s personal life.

Not a lot happens in Saturn in Opposition, but then again that’s the film’s structure, and the plot focuses on relationships not action. The film’s exquisite beauty is found in scenes with perfect shots–the empty bench, empty rooms and the final shot of the abandoned table–all echo the ephemeral qualities of life and the enduring relationships between friends.

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Harem Suare (1999)

 “The Sultan likes happy endings.”

Director Ferzan Ozpetek sets his film Harem Suare (Last Harem) in the twilight days of the Ottoman Empire. The story revolves around Safiye (Marie Gillian), a harem dweller who was sold to the Sultan at age 8. Many of the women in the harem have yet to gain the aging Sultan’s attentions, and Safiye is one of the women who have not yet been chosen. Following an incident, Safiye gains the Sultan’s eye. He asks her name, and suddenly she is one of the favoured ones–this boils down to a night (or more) with the Sultan. If the union is fruitful, and a harem dweller bears a child, then this increases her stature in the community. She will earns jewels from the Sultan, and great envy and possibly even death from her many rivals ….

The harem is at once a protected, cosseted world for the women who live there, and a vicious hotbed of palace intrigue. Dozens of beautiful women try to find ways to spend their boring, unchallenging lives as they idle around the magnificent palace. They are little more than exotic, expensively maintained pets. Intensely threatened and jealous of one another, the women’s captivity breeds hatred and rivalry. To wile away the hours, the women spend hours naked in the steam baths, are massaged with expensive, fragrant oils, become addicted to hashish, and tell each other stories.

Story-telling is at the heart of Harem Suare, and this method of narration creates a languid timelessness and wonder–while also adding some confusing elements to the tale. One tale of harem life is told by the slave, Gulfidan (Serra Yilmaz) to a room full of harem dwellers. Gulfidan relates the story of Safiye’s rise in the harem, and her forbidden relationship with the eunuch, Nadir (Alex Descas). Other, fragmented sections of the film are composed of a now-aged Safiye (Lucia Bose) telling her story to Anita (Valeria Golina), a distraught Italian woman, as the two women wait in a train station for their respective trains to take them to their destinations. These two stories weave back and forth allowing the viewer to piece together the final tale. However, some viewers may be confused by some of the time elements–especially in the aging of Gulfidan. Gulfidan is Safiye’s maidservant, and she tells Safiye’s story to a room full of harem women long after the harem system has been disbanded. One should accept this impossibility as a device to illustrate the timelessness of a mystical conundrum.

Harem Suare is an exotic tale that exposes the incredible decadence and cruelty of a despotic system. The settings are breathtakingly beautiful, lush, and sensual. The story is tragic, and it conveys with a magnificent irony, the fate of the women who were selected for their unique talent and beauty but discarded when they ceased to be useful. The director’s subtle analogy to the fate of the harem women against the fate of the stray dogs of Istanbul is loaded with pathos. This is an absolutely stunning film, and by far my favourite Ozpetek film to date. The film is in Italian, Turkish, and French with English subtitles. Note to Ozpetek fans–the character, Anita is also the owner of the haman in Steam.

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His Secret Life (2001)

 “I don’t know who he was.”

Antonia (Margherita Buy) and Massimo (Andrea Renzi), childhood sweethearts, have been married for 15 years, when he is suddenly killed. They appeared to have a happy, settled, and successful marriage, although there are warning signals that Antonia, a doctor, fails to see. Devastated by her loss, Antonia finds a clue that Massimo hid secrets from her. Through some detective work, she discovers that her husband had a long-term relationship with another man–the sultry, Michele (Stefano Accorsi).

his-secret-lifeHis Secret Life from director Ferzan Ozpetek (Facing Windows) raises some fascinating questions. How much do we ever really know anyone–especially if that person goes to considerable lengths to hide a certain side of their character? Massimo’s death becomes an opportunity for growth for Antonia. She’s rigid and often judgmental, and even her mother bemoans the fact that Antonia needs to ease up on her approach to life. When confronted with Michele’s band of friends, Antonia discovers a group who has largely been rejected by society, and yet they are totally accepted by each other. Massimo, who appears just briefly in the beginning of the film, remains an enigma to those who loved him best, and the film, thankfully, makes no effort to understand his motives. Instead the story largely concentrates on Antonia’s exposure to Massimo’s secret, the range of emotions she experiences when she learns the truth, and her reactions to the individualism expressed by the people she meets at Michele’s flat. Unfortunately, the film declines into a rather silly romance, and while the romance itself raises some serious questions about Antonia’s behaviour, the sell-out ending, ultimately, panders to naivety. In Turkish and Italian with English subtitles.

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Facing Windows (2003)

 “Don’t be content to merely survive.”

Young Italian couple Giovanna (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and Filippo (Filippo Nigro) find a well-dressed elderly man wandering in the street. Giovanna wants to leave the stranger, but Filippo insists on taking him back to their flat. The plan is to take the old man to the police station. There’s no missing persons report on file, so the old man stays with the young family. The old man says his name is Simone, and a concentration camp tattoo on his left forearm reveals some clues to his tragic past. Simone’s presence brings long simmering resentments to a boiling point. Giovanna sees Filippo’s failure to dump Simone at the police station as just another one of his long list of failures. But when Lorenzo (Raoul Bova), a handsome neighbor begins to help, Giovanna’s interest in Simone’s past suddenly increases.

facing-windowsFacing Windows weaves flashbacks from Simone’s past into Giovanna’s efforts to track down the truth. At the beginning of the film, Giovanna is too angry and punchy to stop and pay attention to any one else’s problems. She’s locked into an unsatisfying marriage with a husband who’s a disappointment. She longs to be a pastry chef, but instead she’s shelved that idea for a more practical career–she’s an accountant at a chicken packing plant. Lorenzo represents not only what she’s missed, but also what she could have, and it soon becomes apparent that Giovanna is facing some difficult choices.

Giovanna’s window faces Lorenzo’s flat, so they can stare at each other from their respective windows. But that’s just a literal translation of the title, and the film is much deeper and richer than that. Facing Windows is about facing one’s past, and also facing the future. Simone’s tragic past left him with a few treasured memories, and some unique ideas about the beauty of preserving love over time. Giovanna’s chance meeting with the old man forces her to reexamine her life in a new light.

Facing Windows is an amazing film. I tend to find Italian film too sentimental for my tastes a great deal of the time, but Facing Windows is the perfect balance of nostalgia, hope, regret and loss. This is a beautiful film from one of my favourite directors, Turkish Ferzan Ozpetek.

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Steam: The Turkish Bath (1997)

 Falling in love with a country …

steamIn Steam: The Turkish Bath Francesco (Alessandro Gassman), an Italian interior decorator inherits property from an aunt who lived in Istanbul. He leaves wife, Marta (Francesca d’Aloja) and business partner, Paolo (Alberto Molinari) behind while he travels to Istanbul to settle his deceased aunt’s affairs, sell the property etc. Francesco has inherited a Hamam, a Turkish bath, which has fallen into decay due to its lack of use and growing cultural unpopularity. Francesco stays with a family who knew and loved his aunt, and while he intends to sell and leave as quickly as possible, he stays–reluctantly at first ….

Francesco resists liking Istanbul, and he resists liking the family who knew his aunt, but slowly he is seduced by the country … and one of its inhabitants. This story examines the mystery of Francesco’s aunt, and yet several tantalizing details are left unrevealed. Steam: The Turkish Bath is not a perfect film, but nonetheless it’s fascinating in spite of its defects. Francesco is a problematic character and he remains an enigma. Ultimately, we discover more about Francesco’s aunt than we do about him. Francesco’s marriage is cold and sterile–that’s evident in the first scene, and the filmmaker initially presents Marta as an unsympathetic character. It’s a tribute to the filmmaker’s skill that the perception of Marta seamlessly and gradually shifts until she too becomes a character with a sympathetic and very human presentation. The less-than-perfect ending is bolstered by the mystery of the exotic location and the sensual soundtrack. In Turkish and Italian with English subtitles, this is another wonderful film from Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek.

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