The Fish in Me: A subtly humorous and intriguing story of identity
by Vladan Petkovic
- Ertan Velimatti Alagöz’s second film, one of the few titles to actually screen at the Istanbul Film Festival, boasts a clever script that gives plenty of room for the viewer's own conclusions
One of the five films in the New Turkish Cinema section whose producers made the decision to screen them at this year's largely boycotted Istanbul Film Festival (read the news), The Fish in Me [+see also:
film profile], the second directorial effort by Ertan Velimatti Alagöz (One After Another), is an intriguing and accomplished story of a man looking for his most basic identity.
Born with a deformed hand, which looks like a fin, as a result of pills that his mother was taking while she was pregnant, Barış (Deniz Celiloğlu), a marine biologist in his thirties, runs an aquarium shop that he inherited from his father, who died in an accident at sea. Barış also suffers from bipolar disorder – in winter he is depressed, pessimistic and weak, and in summer he feels more confident and stronger.
He regularly visits a hypnotherapist, and from these exchanges we learn more about his past and personality, as well as his relation to his parents. His mother lives with a cat, and Barış hates cats. And barbers. And he has many other little quirks that mildly annoy the people around him, including customers and his cousin (who came to stay with him after his father threw him out because he owned too many cats), but which he himself actually finds much harder to live with, as they make his life exceedingly difficult.
Not least because of his fin-like hand, Barış identifies more with marine creatures than with humans. He is particularly interested in the Tiktaalik, the first species to have come out of the sea onto the land, and he undertakes some complicated research about his connection to this animal. And while, scientifically speaking, his theory appears to be far-fetched (it is more hinted at than explained in the film), it works very well in this – at first glance – simple, but actually complex movie about one man's most basic identity.
The film is split into two halves, Winter and Summer. At the end of the winter part, Barış's mother dies and summer begins with his decision to leave his flat and pet shop to his cousin, take his father's old boat and go sailing on the Aegean Sea.
There, he runs into Deniz (Deniz Özdoğan – interestingly, in Turkish, Deniz is both a boy’s and a girl’s name, and it means “sea”), a girl he had met several years ago on a dolphin-saving mission. She is there teaching free diving with her brother, and attempting a deep-diving record. Deniz also seems to be more of a fish than a human – she has asthma, which is alleviated when she is under water. The two strike up a complicated relationship…
The Fish in Me is a sensitive and delicate film, but one that also has passion and a subtly sarcastic sense of humour. Alagöz's clever script really lets the characters breathe and gives plenty of room for the viewer's own conclusions, combining personal stories with archetypes in a sophisticated manner – and then brings them all down to earth with a single line or simple action. The only problem is that the ending might feel a little too conveniently wrapped up, but this impression dissipates in light of the overall accomplishment.
Special kudos go to experienced Finnish DoP Jarkko T Laine, whose shots of the Aegean coastline and several hypnotic undersea sequences elevate the film beyond an intimate story.
The Fish in Me was produced by Istanbul-based KokoSuku Film, and co-produced by Greece's 2/35 and Australia's Adaudio. The international rights are still with KokoSuku, and buyers and festivals are strongly advised to check out this unusual and refreshing title.