On the Bumpy Road to Love
True love, they say, isn’t easy but also is where you find it, in the oddest places. For Araf--Somewhere in Between, director/writer Yeşim Ustaoğlu imagines it blossoming in a nowhere truck-and-rest-stop along Anatolia’s main toll road, near decrepit steel-mill town Karabuk. Via Skype Q&A for the New York Film Festival, the Turkish filmmaker indicated that araf directly translates as “between heaven and hell” limbo or purgatory and that rereading Dante convinced her the state of waiting in uncertainty is the most agonizing of all.
Photographed in winter’s swirling snow near whiteout, the two-hours-four-minutes may end in love-joy in the oddest of places but for much of its length is a tale of frustrated dreams and desires. Its two eighteen-year-olds are bored but inexperienced, too naďve to see that their conceptions of the larger world outside are distorted, coming as they do from television reality and strike-it-rich game shows and limited Internet access.
Both are minibused to and from long shifts at the highway gas station-rest stop where she (Zehra Demir, played by Neslihan Ataguül) wears a sanitary uniform cap behind the food counter and he (Olgun, by first-timer Bariş Hacihan) waits on tables. Although living with his mother and not entirely honest alcoholic father, he is not so dissatisfied with his lot, though he does his best to get ahead so as to win her love and hand. From the traditional family of Recep and Merhaba, she on the other hand thinks life must have more to offer than this local lad, applies online for jobs elsewhere, and harbors unformed visions of a Great Love.
Each is not totally alone but has a single confidant, so that their young yearnings can be given screen voice. He pals around with Acun, who, however, is called up for military service. She confides in coworker Derya (Nihal Yalçin), slightly older but more experienced in life, under the thumb of a food supplier she labels “a pimp” but freer in that she can live on her own because “married, but I ate him [my husband].”
Into this bleak picture rides white knight Mahur (singer and actor Özcan Deniz), a swarthy late thirtyish lorry driver who says not a word. At a wedding celebration which Zehra is able to attend by lying to her parents, they dance together, she bemused but intrigued by his supposedly sexy crouching style.
Not touching or speaking, they sleep separately at Derya’s. No more than half aware of her inner promptings, she is mentally absent at work while awaiting the reappearance of the driver, her romantic picture of him undercut elsewhere by views of his routine on the roads. His red truck pulls up at the restaurant, or maybe she first begins to notice it, and follows the workers’ minibus to her crossroads. Dismissing Olgun at every turn, she unsurprisingly loses her virginity to Mahur and, restless and surly at home but believing him her long-awaited prince and escape, comes back for more.
Real life and love, however, are different, “a matter of perspective,” affirmed Ustaoğlu, and the teen’s outlook has been limited to, formed by, the silliness of TV just as surely as Jane Austen’s young women’s are by gothic novels. Out of ignorance, Zehra had taken no precautions and discovers she is pregnant. Waiting for Mahur to show up, sensing that he will not, she hides her condition from everyone -- unrealistic in this constricted environment -- except Olgun and Derya. She is even more tragically cut off when his reaction is violent and, movingly unveiling her own sad secret, Derya departs.
Wiser now, heroine Zehra will pass through her purgatory. But those who enter here need not all hope abandon. Experience is a hard-knocks teacher but a necessary tough-love one. What is past shapes what is to come, but the future remains pliable enough, and inevitable tomorrow is another day.
(Released by The Match Factory; not rated by MPAA.)