Sivas – #venezia71 review

Text by Francesco Alò
Translation by Bianca Baroni
Photo by Alessio Costantino

Yesterday night, at 7:30pm, in Sala Darsena, there were mixed feelings towards Sivas by Kaan Müjdeci, shown for the first time. Somebody clapped hands, other hissed, a man shouted something against the screen and then left. Is this the scandal-movie we were waiting for? No doubts: a great turkish film has arrived, another fact that proves that there’s a huge cinematographic ferment down there, after they gave the Golden Palm to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Winter Sleep.
Müjdeci is at his first long movie but he already climbs a mountain as high as the Everest. Billy Wilder used to say: “Never make a movie with a dog and a kid”. And what does Müjdeci decide to do? A debut centred on… a dog and a kid. Aslan, a eleven years-old unruly boy, lives in the Turkish countryside, followed by a camera which must run as fast as Dardenne brother to keep up with him.

The fact that the audience can nearly get the director’s short breath to catch the neurotic dynamism of our little hero is great. Aslan is in love with a girl that probably doesn’t care about him at all, furthermore he skips classes and for that he’s worse than Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel (the icon-kid of the Festival is more similar to Aslan rather than to 400 Blows’ kid). His friends suddenly leave him alone while they’re playing hide-and-seek (brilliant scene) and starts cursing because the only one who speaks with him is the elder brother, who’s very smutty, sweet but half-dumb.

Mum and dad? They represent a strictness which is more absent than pressing. His father, then, seems so old. Maybe Aslan’s birth.. wasn’t planned. Wandering around Turkish fields and valleys (Eastern Turkey’s landscapes are so sad), Aslan will meet Sivas, a stray dog he saves from a match in which that quadruped was about to die.
In that moment, a great adventure will begin, something between Rocky in a canine version and a brutal counterpart of Belle & Sebastiane in which Aslan and Sivas will compete in clandestine matches in Amores Perros style (tough to see), while our little “curser” with his surly look has been forced to drop out of his childhood, made of the girl he loves, the school he hates, his friends, so that he enters a world of adults which stinks of a brutal adrenaline that you can’t make it vanish not even using a spray in your car.

Both Sivas and Aslan could end up victims of the village’s chiefs, ready to make money out of that special love (adults soon understand that “this dog fights for Aslan!”) between the kid and the dog: it will soon become a deadly weapon in Sivas’ matches (Aslan will wander around the ring more than what Mickey used to do for Balboa in Rocky).
The “stages” will be increasingly big (from a sad valley to a pit full of hulks that looks like those gladiators’ arenas), imposters will get there (Sivas will wear a shiny huge collar with its name on it) but maybe our heroes’ innocence will be gone forever. How can you do anything else but love these two? How can you not suffer for what luck seems to have it? Aslan, maybe, will have to metabolize it even later, when the final credits are over, while Sivas, with an heart-breaking close-up, will prove to have known it all from the start. Everybody knows that human beings are bad beasts. 
An outstanding debut and a tough nut to crack for the Jury, considering the theme.

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