In Cenk Erturk’s impressive debut feature, Noah Land, we are shown something that isn’t often revealed in most American cinema—male vulnerability. Apparently, we have to go to Turkey for that. The overall plot of the film involves a middle-aged son, Ömer (Ali Atay) accompanying his dying father, Ibrahim (Haluk Bilginer) to the small Turkish village he grew up in to be buried underneath a tree he planted as a child. There’s only one problem—the people in the village, including the mayor, are 100% convinced that the tree was planted by Noah. And yes, I mean that Noah. The one Russell Crowe played in the Aronofsky movie..the one from The Bible..that one.
The son and father are pretty much immediately met with conflict from the mayor of the village, and more so his sons who curse at them and worse over the course of their stay. While most of the villagers believe this tree was planted by the Biblical Arksman, the town Imam Ahmet (Arin Kulaksizoglu) has been trying to tell the villagers that this simply isn’t true. No one listens and the mayor is, I think, truthfully carrying on the ruse so that the town can still stay afloat from the tourism money they receive from visitors.
“…the people in the village…are 100% convinced that the tree was planted by Noah. And yes, I mean that Noah.”
An important question to ask while you’re watching this film, and one that I wrote down during, is…Is this story even about the tree? While on the surface it is very much, at its heart it is about the familial bonds between father and son, even when the father was not the best. It is also about the dissolution of a marriage, as Ömer is in the midst of a divorce with his pregnant wife, Elif (Hande Dogandemir). His whole world is unraveling around him and he reacts in a typical masculine fashion of screaming, cursing, ranting, and raving. As the film wears on, the layers of Ömer’s defenses peel away and we see the truly sad and scared person underneath the macho facade.
Haluk Bilginer, who a lot of Americans may know as Dr. Sartain in the latest Halloween film, is incredible as Ibrahim. He is, in essence, an extension of Ömer, the end result of an almost lifelong fight with himself over who he truly is. He comes to terms with the bad things he did and wants to make it right for himself by doing this one last grandiose gesture, of being buried in a place that symbolizes purity and simplicity for him. He also might very well know that it isn’t about the tree at all, but more about reconnecting with his son and attempting to assuage his own regret.
“You are meant to make your own conclusions about what you think the symbols represent.”
The film is beautiful, hands down. There’s a lot of visual symbolism in the film, but it isn’t explained to you. You are meant to make your own conclusions about what you think the symbols represent. I will also just reiterate one more time that the honesty of the portrayal of male relationships is incredibly refreshing and much needed in a society beset by violence. Many more films written and directed in the States by men should use this as a benchmark on how to write male characters. Not every man is Dwayne Johnson, and even so, I can assume The Rock has cried, been depressed, and made mistakes he regrets… if only maybe once or twice (haha). Men are allowed to be vulnerable, and Noah Land reminds us of that fact.
Noah Land (2019) Written and Directed by Cenk Erturk. Starring Haluk Bilginer, Ali Atay, Mehmet Özgür, Hande Dogandemir, Arin Kulaksizoglu.
9 out of 10 stars