Monday, September 24, 2007

Review | Somersault in a Coffin (1997)

Movie Review

Somersault in a Coffin (1997)

April 4, 1998

FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Outcast Grasps the Bird of Happiness

Published: April 4, 1998

Life isn't any less difficult for a homeless man living in Turkey than it is for someone trying to survive on the streets of New York. Dervis Zaim's ''Somersault in a Coffin'' is a compassionate but hopelessly sketchy study of a drifter and petty criminal named Mahsun (Ahmet Ugurlu), who compulsively steals cars, sleeps in abandoned fishing boats and survives on day-old bread.

The compassionate portrait drawn by the Turkish film makes Mahsun almost likable in a sad-sack way. As portrayed by Mr. Ugurlu, a bearded, weatherbeaten actor with a haunted, hollow-eyed look, Mahsun is more comic victim than social predator. An essentially gentle being who endures a vicious beating by the police (he is trussed up and swatted violently on the soles of his feet), Mahsun is touchingly loyal to his fellow outcasts. When one crony dies, he gathers a group of friends for a sentimental graveside tribute in which they sing, drink toasts and pour wine on the earth.

After learning from a television news crew that a local castle has been turned into a tourist attraction housing several dozen peacocks, Mahsun scales its walls and captures one of the beautiful birds, which symbolize the abundant life he will never have. In the course of his daily travels, he also runs afoul of a local criminal boss and befriends a homeless woman who spends her days nodding out on heroin.

If its characters are intriguing, this cinema-verite-style movie never finds its narrative focus. Key incidents in Mahsun's sad life are insufficiently developed, and the abrupt changes in his relationships remain frustratingly inexplicable. The movie, which New Directors/New Films is showing at the Museum of Modern Art tomorrow at 6 P.M. and Monday at 9 P.M., adds up to little more than a diffuse collection of cinematic snapshots of a colorful loser.


Written (in Turkish, with English subtitles) and directed by Dervis Zaim; director of photography, Mustafa Kuscu; edited by Mustafa Presheva; music by Baba Zula and Bab-i Esrar; production designer, Asli Kurnaz; produced by Ezel Akay and Mr. Zaim. Shown tomorrow at 6 P.M. and Monday at 9 P.M. at the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53d Street, Manhattan, as part of the 27th New Directors/New Films series of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Running time: 76 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Ahmet Ugurlu (Mahsun) and Tuncel Kurtiz (Reis).

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