Family drama is an interesting way to delve into a culture’s roots. Olivier Assayas’ 2008 film – Summer Hours, dealt with the interpersonal dynamics in a French bourgeoise family and gave a peek into how this section of society chooses to think and act. With Kasaba (The Small Town), Nuri Bilge Ceylan brought the worldviews from different generations and showcased more than just the characters, through their ruminating conversations. ‘Cici’, written and directed by Berkun Oya, reminded me of this 1997 film, not just because both are set in Turkey, but because the differing perspectives create a chasm that is hard to amiss. The film is now streaming on Netflix.
Three generations of a family reunite in their hometown, and we witness their joyful moments together, the way characters from Koreeda’s classic drama – Still Walking, experience. The three children of Fekir – Saliha, Kadir, and Yusuf return to their family house. Kadir had come there around two years before, to work on his most personal project. The roots of this project are buried in his childhood, when the patriarch of the family made him feel the brunt of things, without caring for his innocent age. The film occurs in three different timelines where we get to see the roots, the culmination of their traumas, and some shocking revelations.
Besides the three biological children, Fekir decides to adopt Cemil – a young boy with a fantastic singing voice. Unlike his children, he is lenient to Fekir’s orders and does not disobey him. There is a sense of distance and pain in the oldest daughter (Saliha), who dances to a melancholic song to release her angst. While Yusuf is too young to bother about his future prospects, Kadir is ambitious despite his young age. Fekir squanders his desires and finds it abhorrible for anyone to act unlike what he expects them to. The mother, who is angry for living with such misery, does little to change any aspect of it.
While some incidents may seem inconsequential at the moment they happen, they can have a deeper impact on how a person perceives himself. Kadir’s personal project – a feature film, is a dramatization, a revisit – to the time when he had gone through these pains. He meets the older Cemil, who still has a voice of an angel, and smiles as wide as he used to. Yet, the rift caused between them by Fekir has rendered far deeper damage. The project stops shooting, but something makes him halt in these lands, and thwarts his creative pursuit for over two years, which coincides with the Covid pandemic. Afterward, Saliha returns again and so does Yusuf from their lives in cities.
Besides entangling the family knots, Cici seems deeply interested in a sort of experiment that Abbas Kiarostami indulged in his Koker trilogy. The reimagining of actual events occurs, where people do not act or react necessarily in the same way they did in actuality. The presence of the camera always makes a difference – it intervenes as a mediator and creates a difference. The notion of putting on makeup to be yourself is also something that the film presents. And while it may be for mere practicality (to lighten the highlights on faces), it can be perceived by the actors to be someone they are not – to be more of themselves.
Amidst the reel-and-real conflict, the characters reveal the hidden truths that shake the foundations of their family. Cemil and Saliha find their own moment of closure, where the sweet memories of forbidden romance do not stay unspoken. The mother’s character, despite her fading memories, manages to stir in their lives in ways that they find impossible to find a way out from. While there is burning passion and undying love, there is also a boiling hatred that finds its way through the nooks and crannies. The civilized nature of their everyday interactions seems like a façade when these emotions start cracking out of their past.
Cici manages to bring these aspects to notice while letting the drama simmer gradually the way it would have been for the characters. What holds our attention throughout its runtime is Yagiz Yavru’s cinematography, which makes use of the shooting location’s empty, wide expanse to its advantage. The sounds also create a lasting impact, especially in the absence of a background score. What the film needed was a bit more substance for its long stretches for them to hold a greater significance. Besides that, the tonal shifts from its contemplative bits to its breezy, outright comedy bits, are not seamless. They pull you right out and you become indifferent to the unraveling drama in those brief moments of shifts.