Visual motifs further mystify a cerebral study of psychology.
The film’s subject matter alone is foreboding enough; it chronicles the story of a large bulk shipping vessel bound for Egypt that must unexpectedly anchor offshore due to the sudden bankruptcy of its owner. Law dictates that at least six crewmembers must remain onboard. The six who choose to stay include the captain Beybaba (Osman Alkas), three new recruits, the cook, and the mechanic. How long they must remain aboard is unclear. Apparently similar scenarios have resulted in holdouts of three or four months. Over the course of their forced confinement to the ship, with the Egyptian shore looming within sight, the six men become increasingly suspicious of each other, of their captain, and even of themselves.
Ivy begins lightheartedly enough, showing Cenk (Nadir Saribacak), Alper (Özgür Emre Yildirim), and Kürt (Seyithan Özdemir) coming aboard the ship as three new recruits to replace departing crewmembers. Cenk and Alper become fast friends and we see them dance about the ship after hours to rock music and smoking some weed together. At first, the extremely religious mechanic Ismail (Kadir Cermik), who is not so subtly named for a certain Moby Dick character, overlooks the fun and slight slacking of the two newcomers. Later on, after the ship’s owner declares bankruptcy and the ship essentially becomes a prison, Ismail is less willing to be lenient. Tensions rise quickly and as Cenk begins to run out of drugs he becomes increasingly hostile toward his peers. The film does an excellent job of allowing the audience to sympathize with each character in turn, using clever framing and brilliant acting to show that each individual is caught up in his own internal turmoil.
The film is split into three ‘sections’ that feel like acts of a play as the situation progresses from bad to worse to worst. Each of these sections is introduced by a quote from a great piece of literature about the ocean and its power, its beauty, its potential for destruction. Interestingly, the film does not take place on the open ocean. The actual sailing that is done by the vessel that serves as the film’s namesake is quite smooth and uneventful, across the calm Mediterranean. Many tropes of standard sailing literature and film, including the storm scene, are curiously absent. It feels as though the quotes about the terror and majesty of the ocean apply more to the characters than to the calm expanse of water surrounding them.
Karaçelik does an excellent job in crafting a film that is technically thrilling. Cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki’s framing is often nothing short of impeccable. He takes long, drawn-out shots of the ship itself, allowing the audience to feel its weight, its creaky deck, and the general atmosphere of a place that can at once be so comfortable and so sinister. Particularly striking was a shot toward the opening of the second section of the Egyptian shore sitting calmly on the horizon at the top of the frame, a stretch of pure blue Mediterranean cutting across the middle, and the smooth clean slice of the ship’s railing across the bottom, emphasizing the simultaneous nearness and distance of land, simply teasing our poor sailors. Meanwhile, Karçelik directs his actors to move expertly through the carefully composed frames, emphasizing tiny details like the reappearance and association of snails with certain characters that the audience is left to interpret at their leisure.
After the film, actor Nadir Saribacak, who rendered a brilliant and chilling portrayal of Cenk, was present for a Q&A with the audience. The majority of this event was conducted in Turkish with some loose translation, but several questions came up again and again, mainly asking about the symbolism of ivy and other motifs in the film. Each time, Saribacak said he wasn’t the one to ask, but that director Karaçelik always declined to answer such questions as well, wanting the audience to self-select their own meanings for the film. This is a bold move for a director who has crafted such a loaded film. The one thing Saribacak did say though is that the film’s characters were meant to represent a kind of country, reflecting differences of background, lifestyle, and opinion. He went on to say that the film was about how individuals interact differently to the power figure nearest to them.
Ivy was screened at the New York Turkish Film Festival. It was directed by Tolga Karaçelik and starred Nadir Saribacak. At the 2015 Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, it won Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor. At the 2015 East End Film Festival, it won Best Film. It was also screened at Sundance Film Festival.
Photo credits: IMDb.