The annual Tribeca Film Festival is upon us. Our first film this year: an entry from Turkey about an isolated family and the demons that haunt them.
DIR/SCR: Emin Alper
North American Premiere
Turkish with English subtitles
A distant, isolated existence makes you see the world in different ways, but one of the effects it would probably cause is a heightened sense of being threatened when The Other encroaches upon what is yours. The notion of The Other, something outside of yourself and therefore something to fear or stand against, is a powerful one to everyone, but to a family living in the Turkish countryside, that sense of paranoia and resentment is particularly potent.
Faik, the stern patriarch of three generations living a humble existence in a small house in a particularly remote area with no sign of any encroachment for miles. With no other people anywhere in sight, Faik and his family have only each other and their bucolic surroundings to interact with. Indeed, the first few shots of Beyond the Hill establish the location with wide shots of a gorgeously lush countryside that ought to be celebrated, not fought over. Yet Faik looks at all this land as his and his alone, so when he suspects that nomads in the area are helping themselves to it by having their goats graze on his grass, Faik's ire is raised and he wants to attack. To him, shooing away nomads becomes a small war to be waged in the name of honor and what's right. What he doesn't realize, however, is the way things within his own family are turning inexorably toward a tragic end.
Beyond the Hill commits strongly to its slice of life portrait of this family; they're the only people we see for much of the film. There is a lot of time and space given to the everyday work of living such a bucolic existence. Whether it's fishing, hunting, peeling apples, or conversation beside the campfire, the camera – using a wide-angle lens for most of the running time – stays on its subject for a long time in each shot and follows each action meticulously. While that establishes the lives of these characters in a compelling way, it also adds to the sense of unease in the film. We never do get a glimpse of these nomads that are supposedly invading Faik's space, and in fact, there's a lot going on outside of the frame we never see or learn about. We hear gunshots off in the distance, but who's shooting (and getting shot at) remains a mystery throughout. Compounding that is the fact that there is so much drama and intrigue building within the group of characters we do see. Faik thinks a strong hand can fix anything, but the fact is, the problems his family faces are far too nuanced and complex to simply be batted away by a blunt tongue. The threats faced by this group from within are as real and potent as the ones from without (perhaps moreso).
Beyond the Hill is at once a psychological horror, a mystery, and an intergenerational family drama. Set in a pristine, idyllic setting, it's a story about how we react to The Other. The Unknown. The sense that there is something out there for you to work against. Deliberately paced and strangely as beautiful as it is unnerving, it reminds us that no matter what's out there, we can never overlook what's affecting us right under our noses.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch