Wrong Rosary

Wrong Rosary

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's always difficult finding one's feet in a strange city. Musa is naturally shy and self-effacing, perhaps too young to be a muezzin, arousing first wariness and then paternal concern from the elders in the mosque to which he is assigned. He lives quietly, though he is befriended by an aging bookseller who gets him involved in literary preservation activities. He likes to study and to read, but into this world another presence gradually intrudes. She too is quiet, but she has a strength he cleaves to. She rescues him from a stuck elevator. She helps him when his friend is ill. She's beautiful, but she's a Catholic, and she plans to spend the rest of her life in a convent.

What follows is a delicate, restrained romance where understatement makes emotion all the more powerful. It's complicated when the bookseller turns out to have been a political prisoner, and when he and the neighbour turn out to be connected. The traditions of Islam, Catholicism and radical politics come together in what could be a fiery mix, but the mood here is always conciliatory and cooperative, each set of ideals, like each character, finding points of sympathy and reassurance in the others. "If she's a believer then she'll do you no harm," Musa's imam tells him upon realising he is in love. The bookseller, though gentle about it, urges him to tell her how he feels. But to do so would be to threaten the life choices that are important to each of them - could it, indeed, be a loving act?

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It's hard to imagine how a film like this could be made in the West today. Though many people look back fondly at obvious parallels like Brief Encounter, we have become so used to heavily sexualised romance and so dependent on test audiences who demand to see love conquer all that our understanding of romance has narrowed and lost sight of possibilities. Turkey stands at a cultural junction from which it is possible to entertain all sorts of possibilities without losing sight of old fashioned values; in a country where many people still have arranged marriages there is also a more thrilling quality to the idea of people so unexpectedly finding themselves in love. There are no over-familiar conflicts here between society and what our heroes want - just individuals faced with complex feelings and the need to do the right thing.

A film like this needs strong performances. Görkem Yeltan is softly alluring as the neighbour yet retains an edge that demonstrates the toughness and independence at the centre of her character. As Musa, Nadir Saribacak delivers a performance that is truly heartbreaking, especially in the final scene when he faces the most difficult decision of his life. There are no big gestures here, but nuanced acting that gives the impression of tremendous honesty. Everything about this film feels real, adding to its impact.

All this and beautiful photography too. Wrong Rosary is probably the best film to come out of Turkey all year, and one of the best romances made anywhere.

Reviewed on: 22 Dec 2009
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Wrong Rosary packshot
A shy young muezzin falls for his neighbour - who happens to be a Catholic looking forward to life in a convent.
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Director: Mahmut Fazil Coskun

Writer: Ismail Kilicarslan, Tarik Tufan

Starring: Nadir Saribacak, Görkem Yeltan, Ersan Unsal

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Turkey

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