Beyond the Hill (Tepenin ardi) – Tribeca Film Festival Review

Emin Alper’s debut work is a powerful film of family and spiritual betrayal.

Writer/director Emin Alper’s debut film starts as a folk tale and ends up a film noir. Showing a remarkable understanding of Western plot devices, Alper slowly and steadily weaves an increasingly complex and suffocating web of deceit around the peasant family of Turkish subsistence farmer Faik (Tamer Levent).

Faik is the traditional father of a traditional family of two sons, three grandsons and one granddaughter. One son and two grandsons have moved away to a more modern, urban lifestyle. The other son lives on the farm with his wife and son, helping the old widower who is gradually slipping into a world of his own.

Having lost his wife of many years, Faik finds himself increasingly isolated by a world that is beyond his understanding. Of his two sons, the one who has stayed with the old man appears dim-witted and thuggish in his outlook. The one who moved away appears the brighter and more worldly but has indulged the devils that abound in his godless and tradition less society. The three grandsons form a triumvirate of the gladiator, the victim and the all-knowing spirit.

The two removed grandsons form a biblical Cain and Abel. In the Bible, Cain and Abel are two sons of Adam and Eve. In the Qur’an they are the two sons of Adam, Eve being left in the background, just as the city son is a widower and the two sons are without a mother.

In Alper’s screenplay, the two sons of Faik also form a Cain and Abel couplet. The farming son is considered dull by his father when, in fact, he is smarter than the city son. Jealous of the easy life and undeserved adoration showered on his dissolute brother, the farming son is jealous and secretly plotting to get even, one way or the other.

Meanwhile, one of the two city grandsons has entered into a secret pact with the devil in the form of the corrupt government soldiers that pretend to patrol the area while secretly furthering their own agenda.

Meryem is the wife of the son who stayed on the farm. Her name is the Turkish form of the name of the mother of Jesus. In the screenplay, Meryem is the mother of the son who has adopted the life of the nomads who claim a kinship with the hills, flora and fauna of the land. He is the only person in the film who is never corrupted in one way or the other.

In the end, he will be the only one who survives in the sense of the survival of his soul as well as his body. Some of the others perish, some live and all are destined to live lives of damaged spirituality.

The soldiers come and go like semi-real spirits. The nomads also come and go, doing their evil deeds, but we never see them. In fact, they may be the growing retribution of the land and the abandoned values of ancient tradition. As the land takes its revenge on the increasingly soul less family, only Meryem’s tortured face reveals the terrible destiny that awaits the family in their spiritless future.

Filmed in the foothills of Turkey, the cinematography is outright fabulous. The land is very similar to the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana and Canada and the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. These are some of the most imposing, rugged, beautiful and dangerous places in the world. The rock formations, cliffs and harsh climate dwarf and bully human interlopers.

The feeling is similar to the rocks in Peter Weir’s seminal horror thriller “Picnic at Hanging Rock.’ There is no background music or any sound at all except the rustling of the poplars and aspens in the wind. Their dry, sparse, ephemeral “talking” emphasizes and exaggerates the increasing silence of the family members, as they are helpless to describe what is happening around them, and to them.

In the end the land lives on as it has for countless millennia while the people flounder, directionless, in the midst of the Garden of Eden. A fantastic film by Emin Alper and a cast of emerging actors with minimal training and experience. This could be the start of something big.

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Directed and written by: Emin Alper
Starring: Tamer Levent, Reha Özcan and Mehmet Ozgur
Release Date: NA—No Embargo
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Country: Turkey/Greece
Language: Turkish w/English Subtitles
Color: Color