Anatolian Leopard

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Anatolian Leopard
"Kayis' film is quiet and measured, from the taciturn Fikret, played with a world weary gravitas by Polat, to the pace, which also occasionally threatens to die on the spot." | Photo: TIFF

"I always had this feeling as if I'm disconnected," says Fikret (Uğur Polat). He's talking to the leopard of the title, and which, now behind the bars of a zoo cage, also could hardly be more disconnected from its natural habitat.

Everything in this debut feature from Emre Kayis feels as though it is living on borrowed time. The old year about to be swallowed by the next, the zoo where Fikret is the director about to be transformed by Arabic buyers into an Aladdin's Lamp theme park, the ride cars already waiting in the wings, wrapped in plastic, as the giraffes get shipped out. The melancholy mood seems to puddle around Fikret, often observed on the fringes, unable even to give his daughter the gift he has carefully wrapped.

Hercules the leopard - whose labours and glory days are as far behind as Fikret's - presents a problem for the establishment, being endangered, which means a home must be found for him before the sale can go through. But unexpected circumstances give Fikret what he sees as an opportunity to change the course of events, an opportunity that does not go unnoticed by his secretary (İpek Türktan), who also dreams of a better life for herself.

Kayis' film is quiet and measured, from the taciturn Fikret, played with a world weary gravitas by Polat, to the pace, which also occasionally threatens to die on the spot. The idea of the myth of the decline of the animal mirroring idealism swallowed by political machinations is a classic idea - and the classics are something that Kayis seems continually to be reaching for, as everything from Greek myth to Shakespeare is cited by someone. The writer/director may be trying a bit too hard to dig for the wider sociopolitical context, leading to some of the conversations in the film to be drawn out more than they need to be but he and cinematographer Nick Cooke (Limbo) have an eye for strong framing that holds the attention - certainly it won over the FIPRESCI jury in Toronto, where it won the critics' prize.

Kayis also knows a good bit of absurdist humour when he sees it and it's a shame he doesn't employ that quirkiness a bit more. But if the film's weightier ideas occasionally threaten to drag it to a halt, as a contemplative character study of someone who realises time and fortune are no longer on their side, it still has plenty to commend it.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2021
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A zoo director comes up with an idea to stop the establishment becoming a theme park.

Director: Emre Kayis

Writer: Emre Kayis

Starring: Ugur Polat, Ipek Türktan, Ezgi Gör, Ege Aydan

Year: 2021

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: Germany, Turkey, Poland, Denmark

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