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08 June 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: Five Times in Turkey Shows Teen Angst

The wind. The sound of leaves. A boy sitting outside a window whom we first see from the back. The minaret. Trees.

If you're looking for harems, terrorists, drugs, belly dancing or people speaking in exotic accents and acting like bimbos or buffoons, this isn't the movie. If you want to see how three young teens deal with their life and hardships in a small town, this is a beautiful, subtle movie worth seeking out.

The 2006 Turkish movie, Bes Vakit, meaning Times Five or Five Times, won a best film award at the Istanbul International Film Festival as well as a Firpresci prize for director/writer Reha Erdem.

Called Times and Winds in English and shown with subtitles, the movie shows the unhappy lives of three young teens in a small, impoverished Turkish village. Omer (Ozkan Ozen) is the son of an iman. The iman is the man looking out the window at Omer. He is sick and sends his son off to get his brother to do the nightly call to prayer. Omer's father favors Omer's younger brother and Omer dreams of killing his father, but not his brother.

His friend Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali) has a secret crush on the young school teacher.He learns that he is not the only one who admire her beauty. Yildiz (Elit Iscan) tries to balance her schoolwork and caring for her infant brother. She adores her father, in a manner that is bound to disappoint.

There is nothing remotely close to what we could call closure. There is no climax or resolution. Like life, loose strings remain untied. Like many disaffected teens, their faces are mostly expressionless. Arvo Part's score provides an emotional guide.

Erdem shows us the beauty of the high rocky mountains that overlook the sea. We see the beautiful trees, hear the rustling of the winds. The skies are blue and all this might seem gorgeous, but in the foreground we see poverty, the cruelty of a man's indifference to his eldest son's feelings--not only with Omer, but with another set of brothers as well. The villagers show charity toward an old woman, toward the young teacher (Selma Ergec) and toward an orphan (Tarik Sonmez).

The boys laugh when they see animals copulating, but there's something wrong when they realize Yildiz also sees the animals and drive her away.

Five times refers to the number of times, the Muslim faithful are called to prayer, but five also resonates in other ways in Muslim life. A true believer follows the so-called five pillars of Muslim life: faith, daily prayers, concern for the needy, self-purification through fasting and a pilgrimage.

Erdem divides the movie into five parts, beginning in reverse order, evening until we end in morning. The trees and the wind seem to be characters in this scenic, lyrical movie as does the minaret which is sometimes framed in the background. The romance of the country, including the exotic foreign country, has been pared down to a spare portrayal of children caught between their desires and the tyranny of their parents. Yet their parents aren't evil; they are casually cruel, as easily as people from any other place and in any other culture.

Times and Winds reminds us of how lucky we are as Americans and yet, how very much similar we are to people in a small Turkish village, even if they are Muslim.

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