Monday, February 7, 2011

Snow Stories II

Yol (Yilmaz Guney, 1982, Turkey)

Yilmaz Guney spent several of his active years in various Turkish prisons, and it's hardly surprising, therefore, that one of his most acclaimed films was made by his assistant Serif Goren while Guney was serving a sentence, and is about prisoners on a week-long furlough. One of the prisoners in Yol (which, in Turkish, means 'road', or 'path') is Seyit Ali, who returns home only to find that his wife has turned into a prostitute, and it is the opinion of the larger, extended family that Seyit Ali should kill her. Unable to stand up to his family, but also unwilling to kill his wife – either out of lingering affection for her, or out of good conscience - Seyit Ali decides to take his wife along with him on his journey back, assuring his relatives that he will kill her.

Thus begins an epic journey across the wintry, punishing Anatolian plateau. Seyit Ali and his wife need to cross the unbelievable expanse of this plateau on foot, and all there is, as far as their eyes – and ours – can see, is snow. Monochromatic, silent, beautiful, threatening, deadly snow. As the ruthless wind blows more and more snow into their faces, we see Seyit Ali's wife lose her strength. Unwilling to leave her there to die, he carries her on his back, as he continues to walk into the endless expanse of white. Guney spares us no details – the inadequacy of their garments as they constantly wrap them tighter around themselves, fighting the wind's fury, the lines on Seyit Ali's face, where the icy wind slashes across his skin like knives, and the colour draining from Ali's wife's face, all make us almost physically aware of the painful cold. What we can never know, however, and only imagine, is that final moment when the cold clenches its grip over the couple – the moment when Ali's wife dies of the cold. The irony is cruel – Ali's family had ordered his wife to be killed, and while he did not want to kill her, he also could not stand up to his family. As she slowly succumb to cold right before his eyes, he has no choice but to watch it happen, and be with her until she dies. Yol is a narrative that ties together three different stories, and while each of these is heart-wrenching in its own way, the scene where Seyit Ali leaves his wife's lifeless body in the snow and walks away from it, while the wind covers it with snow, is the film's most poignant, beautiful, and cruel.

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