Watch out for the release of Judge Daryl Loomis's biopic, Daryl: A Judge's Fear of Robots.
…And say: Truth hath come and falsehood hath vanished away. Lo! Falsehood is ever bound to vanish…(from the Koran)
Dealing with religion in an honest, yet still respectful, manner is difficult in film. If the writer and director don't revere the faith, they can be sure to offend true believers but, if they use that reverence, non-believers will put their noses up to the simple idea of it. It takes a subtle hand to accomplish both, but Turkish director Özer Kiziltan accomplishes just this in Takva: A Man's Fear of God.
Facts of the Case
Muharrem (Erkan Can), a simple man and devout follower of the Sufi Muslim faith (of the whirling dervishes), lives an ascetic life that mostly consists of working and praying. All of a sudden, his Sheikh (Meray Ulgen) pulls him from his job at the sack wholesaler to become the mosque's rent collector. His new job commands respect, but he becomes nervous when his leaders give him a series of Western accoutrements—suits, a cell phone, a car and driver—to make his job more efficient. Afraid of disappointing his superiors, he puts all he has into the position. His obsession with the job, however, as well as the constant handling of the job, changes him. Western influence begins to infect Muharrem, and he feels that his faith and his sanity are starting to slip.
While Takva: A Man's Fear of God is a film about a religion, it is not a religious film. Director Özer Kiziltan never tries to convert anyone with his film and, as he says during his interview in the bonus features, he was never interested in making a film that showed the faith in a glowing light. Takva shows Muharrem and his faith realistically without judgment, allowing the characters' virtues and faults to come through unfiltered. In these characters comes the life of the movie. Muharrem lives like a monk in his late parents' house. His ways are simple and habitual; he could be living today or eighty years ago, these habits wouldn't change. He is happy living by the Koran, he doesn't need to get married, understand the world, or advance in his career to be satisfied; his faith is more than enough. Unbeknownst to him, however, these are the exact reasons the Sheikh and his advisors choose Muharrem for his position. The feel that his simplicity and lack of ambition will keep him working hard while staying free from corruption, specifically noting that his lack of worldliness qualifies him for the job.
While Muharrem is understandably confused as to why he's been chosen, he has no capacity to deny his Sheikh's request. All his declarations of unworthiness are taken as further confirmation of his ability to do the job and, in spite of all his trepidation, accepts his new role. The Sheikh and his advisor may have had sound reasoning in their decision, but Muharrem is worried for good reason and has no idea that he's up against more than the watchful eye of his spiritual advisors; he has Western influence to contend with.
Muharrem, at the start, performs his function in the same simple way he's always handled his affairs. He rides the bus to collect the money and stands in the same lines as customers. The Sheikh tries to convince him that his time is important by bestowing on him gifts of efficiency: a cell phone, Western-style suits, and a car-and-driver. Muharrem, in his humility however, argues that he doesn't deserve these gifts when the Sheikh doesn't even live this well. He finally accepts the Sheikh's wisdom that wealth takes different meanings for different people and goes off to once again do his job. Going from an essential state of indentured servitude to a position of power and respect, however, Muharrem does not have the willpower to fight off a change in himself.
While much of Muharrem's personality changes, his deep feelings of guilt never do. Before, his guilt manifested for innocuous reasons: wet dreams and falling asleep on the job. Now, he's forced to make decide who can stay in their homes and who will be evicted, making decisions that radically affect people's lives. He's handling mounds of money and people defer to his decisions and, for all his devoutness, Muharrem was totally unprepared for how to deal with the guilt and these conflicts begin to fracture his already somewhat weak mind.
These conflicts are the meat of Takva and Kiziltan does a very good job of presenting the nature of the faith and detailing how Muharrem, as much as he obsesses over the religion, lives outside of it as a separate character. In making this separation, Kiziltan can show both sides honestly and respectfully: the religious authority and Muharrem both are noble, flawed, and very human. Erkan Can shines as Muharrem; his change from underling to bully is palpable, believable, and dramatic, yet natural at the same time. The focus of the film is directly on Muharrem, but all the supporting players are equally fine. The prayer chants and dances of the Dervishes are rhythmically hypnotic (as they should be); their spirituality comes through loudly in these scenes. Kiziltan's assured direction ranges from the strongly dramatic to the wildly surreal, but he never gets bogged down in self-seriousness or weirdness. He changes tone just enough without ever going overboard. The cinematography from Soykut Turan is mostly tight interiors, lending a strong feeling of intimacy that places right in the shoes of Muharrem. Takva is an all-around strong film that declines to judge its characters, rather letting their decisions play out naturally.
The DVD of Takva: A Man's Fear of God from Koch Lorber is adequate, but not special in any way. The image transfer represents the colorful palette fairly well and is generally clear, though there is some digital noise in the brighter scenes. The stereo sound is equally average, with little separation but decent clarity. For extras, we merely have an interview with the director, in which he discusses how he tried to bridge the gap between religious obligation and honesty, as well as a trailer for the film.
Takva: A Man's Fear of God, the first film from Özer Kiziltan, is a fine accomplishment. Believably acted, with strong direction, writing, and photography, Takva is not necessarily aimed toward the religious, though religion is handled it with appropriate respect. Nor is the film for non-believers, though the faults of the religion are handled honestly. No, it is simply an excellent character study from a director who is definitely somebody to watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Interview with director Özer Kiziltan
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