Present Tense: escaping the past with an eye on the future
by Vitor Pinto
12/07/2012 - The 18th Sarajevo Film Festival has reserved a special spot for Turkish films this year, with three Turkish productions running in its competition. Two of these, Voice of My Father and Beyond The Hill, also screened at the Rotterdam and Berlin film festivals this year, while the third, Present Tense by Belmin Söylemez, has made its international premiere in Sarajevo, after the Istanbul Film Festival last April, where it was screened in the national competition.
Mina (played by Sanen Oge who was awarded at the festival in Istanbul) is a young woman who dreams of going to the United States. The only job she can find to avoid unemployment is as a fortune-teller in a café in Istanbul. Mina pretends to know how to read the future from the grounds at the bottom of her clients' coffee cups. She has no mystic skills whatsoever, but still manages to do well projecting her own past, from which she wants to escape, and the future she dreams of into these coffee cups. Her clients identify with what she tells them and are satisfied. Before long, she starts reading people's future at parties attended by women who are older and emotionally much more desperate than her. Throughout all this, the young girl saves up all the money she can and tackles the necessary paperwork so that one day she can make her American dream come true. Beside Mina, we meet her boss, Tayfon (Ozan Bilen), and her work colleague Fezi (Senay Aydim), who are both also characters adrift, whether economically, in Tayfon's case, or emotionally, in Fezi's case. All this takes place in the city of Istanbul, which, like them, is also changing.
The tone of the screenplay, written by the director and Hasmet Topaglu (her colleague at the production company Filmbüfe), is both nostalgic and contemplative, which heightens a suggestive (rather than explicit) narrative that lets the spectator recreate a part of the story from their own imagination and experiences, a little like Mina in the scenes when she is reading the future. The past is a time of mist, and the future should be better, but the film, as suggested by the title, focuses on the present and on all that is preventing its main character from moving forwards.
Söylemez has captured all these obstacles in the present with a melancholy accentuated by close-ups of the inside of used coffee cups, beautifully shot by Peter Roehsler, and whose symbolic meaning is replete with the characters' worries, doubts, and secrets.
Filmbüfe, who produced the film, is also handling Present Tense's international sales.
(Translated from Spanish)