Ümit Ünal – Nar (2011)


From divimag.co.uk:
A harmless looking middle aged fortune teller (Serra Yılmaz ) arrives at the swanky apartment of bohemian actress Deniz (İrem Altuğ) who lives with her lesbian lover Dr Sema (İdil Fırat). Over a cup of homemade Turkish coffee the fortune teller turns out to be a vengeful grandmother who is seeking justice for the death of her granddaughter. She believes her death occured through the neglect of Dr Sema and a cover up by the hospital prevented a proper investigation. She drugs the actress and when the caretaker (Erdem Akakçe) comes to her rescue and her partner arrives home from her shift they all end up as prisoners at gunpoint.

As the night draws in each character reveals themselves to be someone other than who they present to the world, and we realize that nobody is innocent and that each person has been lying to each other in some way.

Nar is the Turkish word for pomegranate. In the Qur’an the pomegranate represents a symbol of goodness and it is thought that Eve was tempted by a pomegranate not an apple in the Garden of Eden. The pomegranate has been said to have healing powers. Images of the pomegranate being smashed or the seeds being laid out are used as punctuation in the film possibly as a metaphor for the fallibility of human nature and the shattering of our own delusions of perfection.

Director Ümit Ünal is prominent and award-winning in Turkey today. His first feature film, 9 was the Official Turkish Entry in 2003 for the Oscars as Best Foreign Language Film.

In Nar he has made a film in which lesbian central characters are presented in a non-stereotypical yet challenging way. This is no Hollywood coming out story and the lesbians could have easily been cast as a male/female couple in that there are no grand statements about homophobia and anxiety about their sexuality – they just happen to be lesbian. Indeed as the film progresses we see that Deniz is shocked to learn that her “right on/PC” doctor lover is not as charitable as she thought. And we also learn that Dr Sema resents her younger actress lover who she accuses of freeloading off her, while she herself has to deal with the harsh reality of being a woman working in the hostile patriarchal medical system.

Turkey – founded in its contemporary incarnation in 1923 – is the only Muslim country where it is legal to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. However LGBT people still face discrimination and persecution from families and the government. Turkish lesbians face dual discrimination as women, and being queer, and often have to experience what Adrienne Rich coined “compulsory heterosexuality” through forced marriages or “cures”.

There have not been many Turkish films featuring lead lesbian characters. In 1963 Atif Yilmaz, ‘enfant terrible’ of Turkish filmmaking showed two actresses (Suzan Avci and Sevda) French kissing in Iki Gemi Yanyana (Two Ships, Side by Side). He followed that in 1992 with Dus Gezginleri (Walking After Midnight), a film that explored jealousy and rage between two doomed lesbian lovers.

Nar shows that men can make intelligent films about lesbians. However at times the idiosyncratic editing and shooting do not give enough tension for this thriller to have you on the edge of your seat. This was like one of the pomegranates you buy hoping it will be ripe and juicy but Nar is somehow just not sweet enough.

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