Review: Passed by Censor
by Marta Bałaga
- It’s mystery-solving time in the first feature film by Turkish filmmaker Serhat Karaaslan
While the characteristically jerky camera and greyish tones of Serhat Karaaslan’s Passed by Censor [+see also:
interview: Serhat Karaaslan
film profile], shown in the East of the West section at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, seem to suggest we are in well known desolate territory, social realism soon makes way to drama as, at the film’s very beginning, newbie prison censor Zakir (Berkay Ates) does pretty much everything he was warned against. Instead of simply “blacking out the objectionable parts” of the letters written by the prison’s inmates, he quickly becomes mixed up in the lives of a miserable couple he sees every week — one that must be harbouring a secret for him to discover. Zakir embarks on an investigation that pretty much takes over his entire life; not that there was that much going on there before.
Bambi-eyed, an expression of perpetual confusion on his face, Zakir cuts a believable enough figure in the age of numerous self-appointed detectives, happily accepting new recruits on Twitter after each new episode of yet another true crime docu-drama. A wannabe writer in his spare time, he has curiosity to spare and his new job at the prison starts feeding right into that, already requiring him to look for codes and secret messages hidden between pointless paragraphs and steamy descriptions. But it’s his meeting with a woman obsessed with detective stories that inspires him to go one step further, then two, and soon, observing just isn’t enough. A new hobby takes him out of the prison and onto a public bus, following an attractive woman he believed to be severely mistreated by her possessive father-in-law.
But before it all starts to sound a bit too exciting, real life takes over again, and all of the sexy crime story tropes, the glamorous dolls-in-distress and good guys gone bad are abandoned. Though Zakir’s imagination may run as rampant as ever, it always leads him back to the flat where his chatty mother is feeding him cabbage. Although Agatha Christie gets a mention early enough in the film for the audience to get Karaaslan’s point — all too well, I might add — these mysteries might be just Zakir’s own reaction to boredom, or to his ignorant colleagues calling out pesky “LPGs” instead of LGBTQ and failing to figure out what “conjuncture” means, to them blacking out entire parts of inmates’ letters “just in case”.
Ever since Raymond Chandler’s drunken ramblings, we know that it isn’t always so much about the pay-off as it is the road that leads to it. Even in a Turkish prison, it seems. But too much here is spelled out too loudly, and not even proper redacting would help. Chances are you will still see it all, showing through the ink.
Written and directed by Serhat Karaaslan, the film was produced by Serkan Cakarer, Undine Filter, Thomas Král, Judith Nora and Priscilla Bertin for +90 Film Production, co-produced by Departures Film and Silex Films. Sales are handled by Bac Films.
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