★★★★☆Winner of the Crystal Bear at the 2012 Berlinale and Best Screenplay at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Reis Çelik's Night of Silence (Lal gece, 2012) is yet another fine example of the incredible works emanating from burgeoning Turkish film industry. The second film to feature in our new 'Under the Radar' segment, Çelik's minimalist drama is a fascinating insight into the inner pressures evoked by redemption and tradition. Opening in a neglected graveyard, we're first introduced to Damat (Livas Salman) as he pays his respects to two unidentified graves. Moments later we see this weather worn gentleman greeted by one of the village's elders.
It's here we learn that this forlorn griever has spent a lengthy time behind bars, his crime isn't disclosed, however the reception he receives from the and the fact he has a marriage arranged for him on his return suggests it was for a honour killing. A convoy of decorated cars accompanied by the sound of shawms and drums complement the wedding parade, before Çelik's inquisitive gaze narrows significantly to the newly weds marital chamber. From here on in Night of Silence becomes a taut two-handed chamber piece between Damat and his timid teenage bride, Gelin (Dilan Aksüt). Left alone to consummate their vows, this matrimonial boudoir becomes a tense and awkward warren of diversions and personal revelations.
Night of Silence is certainly unlike any other film about a wedding night, yet simultaneously it never feels like a heavy handed indictment of such an archaic tradition. What we're presented with is a deeply humanist study of moral and societal obligation, with both of the film's central characters terrified about performing the roles they've been assigned. The film's young bride (barely older than 14) attempts to avoid the inevitable nuptials whilst her elderly husband, although very gentle and understanding, seems to be masking his own discomfort with both the situation at hand and his recent past.
It all culminates in a fascinating dynamic which sees the pair react like opposing magnetic forces - each unwilling to perform their roles yet attempting to fight this emotional conflict for the sake of ritual. It would be simple for Çelik to allow us to view this awkward chemistry as a voyeur, lurking silently in the corner of this sparse chamber. However, thanks to a series of subtly-fashioned first person shots, Night of Silence immerses us inside the minds of both its characters whilst also presenting us with the bigger picture. This unobtrusive and humane approach allows the audience to come to their own conclusions, siding with neither character and ultimately focusing on the matter at hand.
Çelik is probably best known for his documentary work and this ability to blur the lines of prejudice ultimately results in an overriding ambiance of organically evolving pathos that leaves a peculiar aftertaste once the film reaches its dramatic conclusion. Combine these deft directorial touches with two assured and captivating performances from the film's protagonists and you have a delicate, eloquent and subtly hard-hitting drama that belies its simple premise. Night of Silence is yet another example of the finely tuned and astute cinema that has become a staple of the Turkish film industry.
Night of Silence will be released in UK cinemas this June, courtesy of Verve Pictures.