Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds

Reviewed By Aaron Ducat
Posted 05/20/05 18:28:52

"A few moments of beauty and interest..."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds is about two young friends growing up in rural Turkey as they attempt to climb beyond their peasant status into the world of cinema. Unfortunately, the film, for all its aspiring qualities, fails to convincingly climb into the world of desirable cinema, and provides instead an often meandering and unenthusiastic story. As one character notes, boats made out of watermelon rinds are bound to sink sometime: sadly this movie fails to keep its head above water.

Based upon the life of writer/director Ahmet Ulucay, the story is set in a small Anatolian village in the 1960’s. It follows Recep (Ismail Hakki Taslak) and his best friend Mehmet (Kadir Kaymaz), both of whom make the daily trek from their small village to serve as apprentices in the local town. Recep works under the tutelage of the avuncular Kemal (Mustafa Coban), a watermelon vendor, while Mehmet is studying under the stern and abusive barber (director Ahmet Ulucay). Both boys are enamored with the town’s cinema, and collect unwanted reels of film which they attempt to show on a wall through a homemade movie projector. As their village does not seem to have electricity, the boys draw light from a generator and pull the film by hand, humorously attempting to find the elusive speed to properly make the movies “move”. Most of the village seems to find the boys’ interest in film ridiculous, with the sole exception being the town cripple, Crazy Omer (Fizuli Caferov).

One day Recep is beckoned to a widow’s house for tea, at which point he falls madly in love with her eldest daughter (Gulayse Erkoc). As the story progresses, the boys eventually succeed in projecting the movies in their homemade theater, and Recep continues his infatuation with the widow’s daughter, only to find the family has suddenly left the town. We are left with Recep and Mehmet dreaming of one day using the cinema to project their stories and dreams to others.

For all its best intentions, Boats lacks a truly engaging story, and at times moves too slow to maintain interest. The two boys are interesting though tepidly drawn, which is a shame as both Taslak and Kaymaz have good faces and delivery for film. Where we’re presumably supposed to feel their adolescent angst at being increasingly pigeonholed into peasant hood, instead of feeling passion and fight we’re often left with molasses-slow malaise. While it’s obvious that the boys are frustrated by the constraints on their dreams, there is little impetus to stick with their story, even when they eventually succeed in projecting the films. The fact of the boys’ cinematic dreams only being supported by a character named “Crazy” is significant, and sheds light on their isolation.

However, this angle is not developed strongly enough to carry substantial weight, and like much of the plot it fizzles out. Recep’s relationship with the widow’s daughter also lacks strength: whatever teenage passion should be there is watered down and weak. Further, her family’s sudden departure from the town only serves to make less comprehensible an already desultory love story. Ulucay weaves in some small comedic moments to help with the story’s flow, but those too fall flat and lack any robust humor.

Boats was shot with a digital camera, and sadly it did not transfer well to 35mm. This is unfortunate because much of the surrounding landscape seems to be tremendously beautiful. It also obscures many night time shots in the village, in which shadowy figures weave about under increasingly haunting music; whatever visual effects this might have had are often lost in murkiness due to the film. Boats moves along, at times too slow, and while there are a few moments of beauty and interest, sadly they cannot save this sinking rind.

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