“Deftly interweaving five contempo vignettes with fairy tale flavors, slick criss-crosser “Istanbul Tales” is both a compulsively watchable entertainment as well as an atmospheric love letter to one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Long-gestated project by writer Umit Unal, who finally shared helming chores with four others … Though the directors basically worked on individual stories, there’s so much overlap between them — on both dramatic and editing levels — and the styles are so undifferentiated that the finished film looks like the work of a single helmer. Unal, who labored over the script for several years, says he finally invited others to share direction simply to give the movie a sustained sense of energy. …
Aging clarinetist Hilmi (Altan Erkekli) has a much younger wife, Senay (Ozgu Namal), who has a lover, photo shop owner Rifki (Mehmet Gunsur). However, before its resolution, another tale starts, which runs like a backbone through the movie’s fabric: the shooting in a restaurant of underworld king Ihsan (Cetin Tekindor) by an unseen assassin. The hit was planned by Ihsan’s right-hand man, Ramazan (Nejat Isler), and power-hungry wife, Hurrem (Vahide Gordum), who now orders Ramazan to dispose of her stepdaughter, Idil (Azra Akin). This doesn’t go as planned, and incidents en route set up refs that are clarified as the other yarns unspool. Also in the mix: love at first sight between a female transsexual, Banu (Yelda Reynaud), and a younger guy, Fiko (Ismail Hacioglu); Banu’s friendship with Mimi (Guven Kirac), a sweet old transvestite; a Kurdish peasant from the provinces, Musa (Selim Akgul), who gets a job at the eatery where Ihsan will be shot, and meanwhile stumbles across a beautiful but loony princess, Saliha (former Miss Turkey, Nurgul Yesilcay).
Criss-crossers set during a limited timeframe have been an established genre, especially in European cinema, for some time. But Unal’s complex script, which continually surprises with its cleverness without sacrificing character development to plot mechanisms, makes the format shine anew. Casting is terrific at every level, with a bevy of local names, and the fairytale parallels are never pushed too hard. A final seg, centered on a German Turk, Melek (striking Idil Uner), and her mysterious young daughter (Ece Hakim), neatly wraps up the whole package.