In competition for the Best Feature prize at this year’s East End Film Festival is Tolga Karaçelik’s psychological drama Ivy (Sarmasik). Karaçelik’s second feature is a slow unnerving descent into group psychosis as six men experience the meaning of ‘cabin fever’ after the cargo ship they were working on is stranded off the Egyptian coast.
In this very atmospheric film reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, we are introduced to six very different crew members on board the cargo ship marshalled by stern Captain Beybaba (Osman Alkas). Cenk (Nadir Saribacak) is a druggie and troublemaker who always pairs up with slightly-naive and ingenuous Alper (Özgür Emre Yildirim). Chef Nadir (Hakan Karsak) seems to be the captain’s favourite – at least at first – and he is also the peace-keeper amongst the hot heads on board the ship. Religious first officer Ismail (Kadir Cermik) is Beybaba’s right hand, a detail which soon wins him the resentment of the rest of the crew. And lastly, Kurt (Seyithan Özdemir) the robot-like giant mechanic, is somewhat of a constant, yet silent, presence on the ship. When we first sail in such peculiar company there is already a scent of trouble ahead – the men have not been paid for months and soon enough the ship owner announces bankruptcy. The cargo is therefore obliged to drop the anchor off the coast, our many characters are those chosen to remain on board and manage the ship while others reach land. Those left behind soon find themselves in (quite literally) a limbo. Day after day boredom and isolation start to take its toll. When food and water begin to run out, the spirits run even higher. Before long, things take a dramatic turn…
Ivy is certainly a haunting film – from the start we slide across the bowels of the ship in long tracking shot which bear a stark ominous feel to them. It is slightly odd, at first, given the lightness of dialogues at the very beginning of the film. However, it all starts to make sense as soon as we realise where we are heading. Indeed, some on the dialogue is occasionally heavy-handed in its foreboding sense of imminent uprising but, once the ball is rolling, it is a nerve-wracking ride all the way to the end which doesn’t spare surprises either. There is an hard balance between a rather stylistic approach camera-wise and a more naturalistic approach towards the acting (which, by the way, is top-notch) and screenplay. These two elements hardly match each other and, at times, such dissonance becomes distracting. Perhaps, a more controlled point of view starting from the screenplay would have helped in this case.
Ivy will screen at the East End Film Festival on 12 July, 6pm. For more info, visit: www.eastendfilmfestival.com