The Miracle (Mucize)
Turkey (2015) Dir. Mahsun Kirmizigül
Over the past decade the only name in Turkish cinema to make a substantial breakthrough onto the international stage has been Nuri Bilge Ceylan, yet it is clear that there are plenty of filmmakers and films equally worthy of global attention. The Miracle from Turkish multi-hyphenate Mahsun Kirmizigül is a prime example of this.
Set in the 1960’s school teacher Mahir Ögretmen (Talat Bulut) is relocated from the city to a remote mountain village in Palu against the wishes of his wife (Senay Gürler) and daughters, but when he gets there Mahir discovers that not only is the village impoverished and lacking most mod cons but it doesn’t even have a school!
With the country under martial law and the acting Government unreliable at best, the village is left forgotten so, Mahir rallies the villagers and they build their own school. He begins the education of all the children, along with one adult who needs help the most, a handicapped 31 year-old man named Aziz (Mert Turak).
Based on a true story, this is a rather over sentimental essaying of the growth and enriching of the lives of everyone in the whole village, including Mahir, through acts of simple humanity, understanding and of course education. It may have been a deliberate ploy by Kirmizigül to lead us to believe that this was about Mahir’s fish out of water story as the film opens with him leaving his family for his trip but we soon learn otherwise.
With education being a core theme of the story it is rather apposite that we foreigners find ourselves educated about the Turkish traditions of the 60’s (and maybe still today?) which Kirmizigül covers with both reverence and gentle humour. Indeed there is an almost wicked comedic vein running through the film which seems surprising considering some of the issues it explores but never feels too mean spirited.
The villagers are not all ignorant hicks as some were afforded an education in the city – not that it helped – but they are beholden to the simple ways of their community and religion. An example of this is depicted via a recurring scenario hopefully is a reflection of attitudes of the past. The village chief (Erol Demiröz) has six sons, Aziz being one, and every year one is married off with their mother (Yildiz Kültür) and the other village wives sent to find a bride for them.
When they have found someone the two matriarchs hold a group meeting so the prospective bride can impress her future mother-in-law. If she knows the Quran, can cook, walk in a straight line and has nice teeth she is in, although if she meets some of the criteria and is the best on offer, she is picked anyway. The wedding ceremony is a curious affair and the wedded couple remain apart until they are left alone to consummate the marriage, where the elation or disappointment finally arrives.
It sounds rather cruel and maybe Kirmizigül’s comic handling of this makes it worse for those with feminist leanings but by the same token, it is also mocking the high expectations of the future grooms. They aren’t exactly catches themselves but expect their brides to be goddesses which isn’t the case. In something of a spoiler Aziz ends up with being married off and – rather predictably – his bride Mizgin (Seda Tosun) is not just perfect domestically but is a stunner too!
This is a rare occasion where Aziz is the focus of the humour, otherwise the treatment is mostly sensitive without being too pitying towards his struggles even though he is the central focus for our sympathies. Mahir merely sees a man who deserves an opportunity to at least try and learn and gives it to him, not out of pity or even duty but simple dedication to his vocation and cause.
However we find Kirmizigül trying a little too hard in getting the audience to root for Aziz, every moment where he succeeds or takes a positive step forward is accompanied by a stirring triumphant orchestral overture. This deliberate manipulation is awkwardly heavy handed and comes off as cheesy although it is easy to see the idea behind this move since it is an effective ploy of many a film.
The cast are also required to shed a moving tear or two whenever Aziz scores another personal victory making this an unabashed lachrymose outing but it is a facet we can overlook, thanks to the superb performances. Talat Bulut as Mahir serves the audience well as our guide through the antiquated world of the village but the film belongs to Mert Turak as Aziz.
When one thinks of the great performances of disabled people from the likes of Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot), Moon So-ri (Oasis) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything), Turak deserve to be added to this list. Having to endure the discomfort of Aziz’s contorted body, angular knock kneed gait and head spasms, the commitment to the role and verisimilitude of his performance is astounding and deserves much kudos and reward beyond the limited notice it is bound to get.
Aside from one of the finest performances of the year, this film also boasts the most stunning photography you’ll see. Soykut Turan’s gloriously pin sharp and vivid images take us deep into rural Turkey, from the green grass of the fields to the sweeping chasms of the mountains and the sheer glistening beauty of the winter snow. The women’s outfits are all garish constructs of vibrant colours and the interiors of the homes are bathed in warm glow in contrast to their humble bucolic appearance.
The Miracle is a heart warming and emotional journey of people who have been given a chance to improve their lives at the most basic level through acts of simple human understanding. The gorgeous presentation and superb performances are glorious enough to allow us to overlook the heavy emotional manipulation.