As the rents charged by the Istanbul “Foundation” are about to increase without notice by 15%—“Pay up or face eviction, the financial health of our Seminary and its all-male students depend on it”—Brother Rauf (Güven Kiraç) placates the newly hired rent collector with the comforting knowledge that “Religion takes care of the poor … don’t mix up charity with the Church—providing alms to our destitute tenants (and end up back in Allah’s coffers) would send a message of confusion to the others.”
And so Muharrem (Erkan Can) begins his descent into madness as his fear of God morphs unstoppably into fear itself.
The first half of director Özer Kiziltan’s film as seen through Soykut Turin’s camera displays a marvellous array of earth-tone images as we meet the tirelessly devoted apprentice who years ago was entrusted to Mr. Ali (Settar Tanriogen), his long-departed father’s friend and successful purveyor of sacks (the obvious link to the notion of sackcloth and ashes—like many subtexts in Onder Cakar’s screenplay, even if coincidental—adds another layer of truth to this tale that, essentially, owes its existence to the calculated lies from which the devout (of any belief—this time it’s the Muslims who must shoulder the shawl of shame—but just the men: the women serve but one predictable function in this production) utilize to fulfill their dreams and ambitions while pretending to work for the greater good.
Unfortunately, the dreams of the chosen one (sensing a suppliant, the spiritual leader—played with conniving panache by Meray Ülgen—chooses Muharrem to begin God’s work in making sure the rents arrive in an orderly fashion) are, well, wet.
The perpetual bachelor’s seldom-serviced member erupts and soils his master’s drawers with arousing visions of nubile, certainly veil-less, women in the wee hours of the morning.
Miraculously, his last nocturnal emission gradually takes us into a reality show where Muharrem is the only contestant. It culminates as the rain-drenched, belief-desiring administrator stalks his apparition through the streets, getting his designer-suit as soaked as his withering skin (some details best left to the imagination) only to realize that his forbidden desire is the Sheik’s daughter (at one point promised in marriage, but refused by the devoted servant).
What’s an atheist to do? Rather than cheer, the marvel of this film is what the ardent followers of any organized religion fear most—their beliefs and those drilling them in (the prayer sequences are chock-a-block full of fervourished, manic devotion that bursts onto the screen and into our ears (original music from Gökçe Akçelik) with enough conviction to earn the accolades of the most pious Fundamentalist enclave in the mid-West U.S.
For Canadians, there’s an unforgettable Karlheinz Schreiber/Brian Mulroney moment. Muharrem, like the former prime minister, is unexpectedly faced with a massive amount of U.S. cash (paid for dubious services: wink wink, nudge nudge) but can’t help himself so pockets the cash from an “international” entrepreneur, lies about the details of the transaction, only to be stuck with the foreign bank notes (finally stashing those in the vacant shrine that once housed his family, spirit-filled home—depositing them into his own account would cause too many embarrassing questions). Here, the script falters: Earlier, Rauf cajoles Muharrem into shutting up his home and moving to the dervish-filled sanctuary; much smaller in size, he opts to leave all of his family photos behind, apparently for this dramatic/cinematic moment rather than a shortage of walls. Now, as he hides the ill-gotten loot he must endure the silent condemnation from the frames of his parents.
But, once his indoctrination/probation is concluded, the pious administrator is showered with a spectacular set of worldly ldquo;entrustments”—from a cellphone to upscale wardrobe to driver-and-car worthy of his station and in the tradition of Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling or Hollinger’s Conrad Black. Whether on the backs of shareholders or parishioners, those few having power over many share the same desire to worship at the altar of greed.
Uneven at times (the subplot around the plight of innocents in Kosovo and the seemingly obvious chance for Muharrem to redeem himself by rescuing the pauper tenants he evicted in the service of those more fortunate—atonement of a different kind, cross-reference below), Kiziltan’s moral earthquake will, hopefully, put the fear of God (you choose the denomination) into religious establishments worldwide and lead some of their leaders to the conclusion that, perhaps, part of their wealth (just stewarding the billions of course; wisdom is what these rulers really seek) could actually be put into the hands of those truly in need. JWR