Directed by: Yesim Ustaoglu
Written by: Yesim Ustaoglu
Starring: Neslihan Atagül, Baris Hacihan and Özcan Deniz
The morose and miserable quality of Yesim Ustaoglu’s fifth feature is somewhat beautiful – if only because of the wonderful performances and the stunningly alien landscape. As the Turkish word ‘Araf’ translates to limbo – a state of in-betweenness that the film’s characters find themselves in – the film itself often has the feeling of giving too much and too little at the same time, and never fully being a disappointment or a satisfactory film.
Zehra (Atagül) works at a roadside rest stop for truckies and travelers. While her customers are constantly on the move, the stillness of the barren countryside reflects upon the stasis of Zehra’s own life, which Zehra’s co-worker, Olgun (Hacihan), wishes to escape by pouring his hopes into the get-rich-quick scheme of being a contestant on ‘Deal or No Deal.’ When a truck driver appears out of the blue into Zehra’s life, her desire for him quickly leads to a life-changing tragedy that shakes her previously quiet existence.
Araf beautifully captures young people caught in a landscape where nothing happens, and where hope is quashed by the notion that nothing will ever happen. But with so much energy, vivacity, and unspoken ambitions, their sense of direction can often be spun out of control when the prospect of escape or change is offered to them. While the first two acts of the film rely on silence, stillness, and an attention to detail that often feels slow and exhausting, the dramatic turn of events is as confronting and unpleasant as it is unnecessary. For all of its thought-provoking representations of youth living in provincial towns, Araf doesn’t hit as hard as it could have, even with the level of shock that it delivers in its finale.