ND/NF REVIEW: "Journey to the Sun," A Turkish Delight of Injustice and Poetry
by Mark Peranson
(indieWIRE/3.30.2000) -- Yesim Ustaoglu's courageous second feature handles the subjects of police brutality, flagrant injustice and political repression with a deft hand -- the result is more a poetic mourning about the state of a state than a harsh piece of anti-Turkish propaganda. I'll rephrase that: "Journey to the Sun" is a subtle work of anti-government propaganda, which also manages to sustain a tense atmosphere as politics start to dominate the lives of its main characters. More of a love on the run than a less racist version of "Midnight Express" -- "Romeo and Juliet" comparisons are likewise faulty -- Ustaoglu's film is quiet and affecting, especially becoming ruminating in the last half-hour.
In Istanbul, Mehmet (Newruz Baz), a public works employee who fixes burst pipes, and Berezan (Nazmi Qirix), a small-town Kurd who sells audio cassettes in a street market, meet during a soccer celebration turned anti-Kurd riot and become quick friends. Meanwhile, Mehmet begins romancing the somewhat conservative Arzu (Mizgin Kapazan), a laundress who dreams of stockings and television; a very tender relationship develops. In these early scenes, Ustaoglu keenly uses Vlatko Stefanovksi's melodic score to establish a mood of plaintive, developing love. But soon the music becomes as ominous as the story told.
Their lives are significantly altered when Mehmet and Arzu part one evening, and he finds himself on a bus, sitting beside a terrorist, who scoots off before the bus runs into a roadblock. He leaves his gun behind, and Mehmet is mistakenly arrested and undergoes brutal interrogation. The police snicker when he says he's a Tire from the West, assuming he's a Kurd from the East because of his dark skin.
Ustaoglu shows how his story is one of many, as Arzu comes to inquire about him in a police station, and sits beside a mother who's repeatedly returned to find out something, anything, about her own "missing" son. Soon enough, after Mehmet is finally released, a red X appears on his door -- a sign that he's been branded by the government as trouble -- and things can only gets worse. He's kicked out of his apartment by nervous roommates, fired, and hunted, his life is turned upside-down, and he dyes his hair blonde to disguise his identity (which comes with symbolic undertones of a self-proclaimed, politicized outsider.)
These political overtones don't overwhelm the cross-ethnic film's other strong points