The Market

The Market


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"Our world", Mihram (Tayanç Ayaydin) is told by one of his clients at the beginning of The Market, "is full of scumbags". And this small-time independent trader in blackmarket goods is about to find out that he may well be one of them himself. After all, even if Mihram is trying to change, trying to give up all the drink and gambling and become a righteous man in the eyes of his wife Elif (Senay Aydin) and of Allah Himself, he must first engage in some increasingly unsavoury dealings to accomplish all this – and as the local mafiaman Mustafa (Hakan Sahin) tells him, "In trade, everything connects."

It is 1994, and Mihram hopes to find his salvation in connections – or more precisely, in the mobile phone businesses that are just beginning to emerge in eastern Turkey. When the local hospital's dispensary truck is robbed and a doctor (Nilüfer Alptekin) offers Mihram a large upfront fee to purchase replacements for the children's medicine from across the border, Mihram sees the opportunity of a lifetime.

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He plans to gamble the money on a foolproof scheme involving the smuggling of mineral ore – a scheme that should, through the Azerbaijani connections of his dyspeptic old uncle Fazil (Genco Erkal), yield enough returns for Mihram to be able both to buy the much-needed pharmaceuticals and to start his own cellphone business with the remaining profits. Things, however, do not go quite as planned, and Mihram, for all his skills as a wheeler-dealer, is about to learn a lesson about his own small place in the workings of global capitalism.

If The Market dramatises an interconnected world of corrupt commerce, where the greatest winners are always the biggest thieves, it is also the product of more benign international collaborations. Though it is set on (and over) the border of Turkey and Azerbaijan and played out by a Turkish cast (in Turkish), it is a joint Turkish/British/German/Kazakh production written and directed by the Englishman Ben Hopkins (Simon Magus, The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz), who was drawn to making a feature in the region after working there on his documentary 37 Uses For A Dead Sheep (2006). This reflects the film's central paradox – that capitalism can engender both the most egregious kinds of exploitation and the most extraordinary acts of individual creativity.

It is a mixed message, which Hopkins delivers through a special blend of naturalism and allegory. For The Market is, essentially, a neo-realist tale of a man rooted in a particular time and place, who must struggle against hostile sociopolitical circumstances – and yet by irrationally framing this story at either end with a female singer/narrator (Rojin) who addresses the camera directly as she rhapsodises Mihram's fate, Hopkins elevates his film to a mythical level, where Mihram is as much symbolic figure as he is flesh and blood.

His ingenious yet impotent attempts to improve his lot make him an everyman in a globalised economy, so that, for better or worse, his negotiations with the world are ours too. We might feel distant from Mihram both geographically and culturally, but when we witness his self-delusion and naïveté in the face of irresistible market forces that he imagines he can control, we are really only looking in the mirror.

Like any bazaar, The Market has something for everybody. There is the cynical satire of the scenes in which Mihram goes about his business, and the escalating suspense of the bargaining episodes, each one with higher stakes than the last. There is the comedy of Mihram's relationship with Fazil, and the tragedy of his inevitable lapse into crime and debt. There is the local colour of Mihram's immediate environment, and the universal dimension of his travails. Hopkins, aided by an excellent cast, handles this all with assured deftness, offering an entertaining film with a great deal of substance to it, and a devastating sting in its tail.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2008
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A small-time black market trader tries to change his ways.
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Director: Ben Hopkins

Writer: Ben Hopkins

Starring: Tayanç Ayaydin, Genco Erkal, Senay Aydin, Hakan Sahin, Rojin, Sertel Ugur, Seval Bozbay, Nilüfer Alptekin, Kubilay Tunçer, Kamil Acar, Özlem Baskaya, Ufuk Asar

Year: 2007

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Germany, Kazakhstan, UK, Turkey


London 2008

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