“Kaç para kaç (A Run for Money)” is a lean-and-mean Turkish drama with more twist and turns than the back-alleys of Istanbul. Wonderfully directed by Reha Erdem with a Hitchcockian sense of timing and style, “Kaç para kaç” literally keeps the viewer on edge from the opening credits through the unexpected denouement.
“Kaç para kaç” focuses on poor Selim, the glum owner of an Istanbul men’s clothing store. Business is continually bad, his one employee is pestering him for a raise, his family is barely getting by on his meager profits and everyone else seems to have money except him. Until one fateful evening when Selim gets into a taxi containing a briefcase accidentally left behind by the vehicle’s previous passenger. The briefcase is overstuffed with stacks of American $100 bills. Selim stops the taxi and gets out with the briefcase to locate its owner, but the man is nowhere to be found. Shortly after, Selim learns the man was a bank clerk who stole the cash (totaling $450,000) from his place of employment.
Not able to spend the money and yet unwilling to return it to its rightful owner, Selim finds himself with an unwanted fortune. His mood deteriorates into paranoia that he will be discovered with the cash. To hide this money, he fires his employee and stashes the cash in his store. But after his store is robbed (only the cash register’s contents get stolen), Selim slowly succumbs to temptation and begins to spend the money. Yet his initial focus on acquiring much-needed necessities soon bleeds into reckless indulgences, including meals at super-expensive restaurants and purchasing a dress for the sexy neighbor who is constantly flirting with him. In a short time, the proverbial root of all evil strangles Selim in ways he could never have imagined.
“Kaç para kaç” is a harrowing dissection of the nastier aspects of the human spirit. Filmmaker Erdem keeps the action flowing in swift, staccato rhythms that never veer into the predictable, and he wisely throws in inexplicable behavior which mirrors his protagonist’s increasingly warped inner emotions (most horrifically in his stupidly lying to a neighbor shopkeeper that his fired employee was responsible for the store’s robbery, only to discover later to his shock that lie resulted in the imprisonment of the innocent ex staffer). The film’s apex comes in an unexpected and wonderfully choreographed three-way chase throughout a ferryboat when Selim spots the youth who robbed his store and gives pursuit, only to be pursued himself when the miscreant bank clerk who lost the stolen money takes off after him.
Special mention should be given to Turkish stage actor Taner Birsel, who essays Selim’s predicament with grace and skill. This is clearly a very difficult role, for Selim is in a constant state of misery, albeit in varying degrees of financial stability, yet Birsel avoids the obvious by having the audience get too sympathetic. The character is both an everyman and a fool, an object of pity and derision…a real person, perhaps too real for comfort at times, and Birsel’s performance covers amazing ground. “Kaç para kaç” is Turkey’s entry in the upcoming Academy Award competition for Best Foreign-Language Film. No Turkish film has ever won an Oscar, and it would be a welcome surprise if this excellent film would snag a nomination.