Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Steam: The Turkish Bath"

Directed and co-written by Ferzan Ozpetek, this is a subtle and beautiful film about waking up from one's unhappiness. Francesco and Marta run a small design firm in Rome. Marta has been cheating on her husband. When Francesco's Aunt Anita dies in Istanbul, she left to him one of the few remaining hamam or Turkish baths in the city. Intending to sell the bath at first, Francesco is warmly welcomed into the family running the bath, attracted first to the daughter, then to the son. Seduced by Istanbul, he decides to stay and re-open the bath.

His affair with the son is discovered by his wife who breaks up with him. To help her understand his feelings, Francesco shows her the letters his aunt wrote to his mother about falling in love with Istanbul. After he was stabbed by a hired thug of a ruthless developer and died, Marta finds herself staying on to complete Francesco's project, the re-opening of the hamam. I like very much how the film shifts midway from Francesco's perspective to Marta's, the real successor to the indomitable Anita who never appears in the film but whose spirit presides over it.

Alessandro Gassman plays a very believable Francesco, whose happiness is so sadly short-lived. Francesca d'Aloja is a memorable Marta, very French in her self-possession. Mehmet Günsür plays the very attractive son, also called Mehmet. After watching the movie, GH and I talked about visiting Istanbul, so drawn we were to the muted, crumbling, sensual images in the film.

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