My Only Sunshine

My Only Sunshine


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Growing up isn't always easy. Living in a broken home, enduring poverty and facing bullying at school, Hayat has plenty of problems, all compounded by the low status of women in traditional Turkish society.

Her father is rarely at home, working hard to earn a living with his small boat but getting caught up with some frightening people in the process. Her mother comes and goes, intermittently excited by the idea of preparing her for womanhood with glamour and rituals which combine to suggest she is being prepared for sacrifice, and which become increasingly disturbing.

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Her bedridden grandfather at times seems sympathetic to her plight, but what he really wants is for her to run errands for him, to bring him the drink his son won't allow. This involves having to deal with a shopkeeper who sees her as an easy target for sexual harrassment. It's a grim set of circumstances, and yet a believable one - all these situations and characters fit neatly into their world, so that there is no impression of misery having been ladelled on for the sake of it.

What Hayat yearns for most is simply attention. The only time she hears "I love you" is from her Tickle-Me-Elmo doll. At times her father seems as if he has a genuine wish to connect with her, but these are only fleeting glimpses, nothing to the attention he lavishes on the male child in the family. She is incidental to other people's lives. It is here that the film finds its substance, focusing not simply on the ugliness of life but on Hayat's capacity for survival, on her toughness and the inspiration she takes from her beautiful natural surroundings.

In the central role, Elit Iscan demonstrate a confidence that belies her years. She's not demonstrative but quietly resilient, intelligently interpreting the withdrawal common to children in such circumstances. The problem is that, brave though the film may be, this is pretty difficult to watch for an hour and a half, and the occasional flashes of humour are not sufficient to leaven the weight of the central narrative. Instead we rely on lyrical images of the river landscape, some of which work beautifully but most of which fail to stand out from the great bulk of such imagery you'll see in films like this.

Staying the course requires an intense focus on Iscan's performance and on a character arc which is slow to develop (for all that that's part of the point). My Only Sunshine is a worthy film with impressive ambitions, but it doesn't quite pull it off.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2009
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My Only Sunshine packshot
A girl endures a difficult transition to adulthood, living in poverty on the banks of the Bosphorus.
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Director: Reha Erdem

Writer: Reha Erdem

Starring: Elit Iscan, Erdal Besikcioglu, Levend Yilmaz

Year: 2008

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria


BIFF 2009
London 2009

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