It is quite curious that a film about a certain religious sect would be directed by Ozer Kilitan, someone who has declared that he is a man who doesn’t believe in God. This little detail had aroused my curiosity. “Takva: A Man’s Fear of God” has both been condemned and praised by religious sects according to the director. The film does have some controversial themes, and I have no knowledge of the religious practices of Islam or of politics of Turkey, so I cannot really comment about its accuracies or lack of, so I can only comment in my review as to how well the film is made and the performances.
Istambul. Muharrem (Erlan Can) is a devout man who leads a simple life--he goes to work and does his religious obligations faithfully. One day, his friend, Rauf (Guven Kiraq) pays him a visit to take him to a “Dhikr”(a practice that according to the director is outlawed in this place). The Sheikh of their sect requests that Muharrem be appointed the keeper of the group’s finances and assets--collecting rent and managing expenses because of his “pure” heart. Being the humble man that he is, Muharrem accepts. He believes that this task is the will of God. However, after spending sometime dealing with economics, commerce and finances, his goal of purity of heart is set to collide with the modern world.
Rather than have a religious commentary, Director Ozer opted to make this film a character study of a devout man so set in his religious ways that he is not open to change and tries to fight modernization. Muharrem is a simple man, quite satisfied with his life. Sure, he does have his share of his own sins but he does whatever he can, to serve his beliefs. The film does demonstrate certain aspects of the religious rituals such as the “Dhikr”, washing oneself of sin and times of prayer but it is not the film’s main focus. Remember the old adage: “It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.”
The question is what would happen when your religious beliefs that you so believed in, so devoted to, may well be the only thing you have left contradict the practices of the modern world. On Muharrem’s first few weeks as the sect’s collector, he is shown modern clothing, a car, a mobile phone--he is even given respect by his old boss and a banking institution because of his newly appointed position. All of these serve as commentary to exhibit religion’s powerful influence in the modern world, because of the devotion of its members. A man such as Muharrem may have problems getting used to all of this, it sure doesn’t help when he is having a lot of unexplained dreams. These dreams are somewhat a commentary on the country itself and its modernization.
A film whose success depends on the character of a simple man has to have a strong lead, and I do think Erkan Can did an excellent performance. The man is a famous actor in Turkey and I can see why. The lead actor definitely displayed the needed emotions to express his character’s breakdown--fear, confusion, paranoia and delirium can be felt by the audience. There is a part that displays the weighing the needs of the “greater good” against the needs of some that was very effective. I liked the part when a young man talked to him about the realities of war and the part when his confusion goes full circle when he feels he is becoming corrupted by the almighty dollar. Muharrem reacted as if he is “unclean” and tries very hard to fight it--what is his first reaction? To seek the wisdom of his Sheikh.
The film may be a little controversial to others and to be honest, I have no doubt it may alienate some viewers. The screenplay is simple enough to grasp but I do think a knowledge of this religion itself may assist in appreciating this film better. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Islam is very limited and I have to say that there may be some elements that I could have missed.
Despite my somewhat disconnection to some of the film’s driving factors, I do think the film is a good one. Some parts of the film were a little too heavy-handed and a tad undefined but the strong performance by Erkan Can managed to keep me interested. The film is a good melodrama, but certain things kept it from becoming great. I can see why some religious sects condemned this film at first, but as the director stated, a good number of Islamic sects also supported its production as displayed in the film’s portrayal of its rituals. (played by an actual membership) They believed this story holds a semblance of truth and it must be told. As a fan of challenging cinema, I was intrigued and my curiosity was somewhat rewarded.
Recommended! [3 ½- Stars]
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