Beautiful, lingering shots of forbidding snow-topped expanses have become a facet so typical of European “art-house” fare that we might as well just call it the cliché that it is. With curious characters and an involving story, such locales can enhance a sense of isolation and dread, yet when dispassionately employed amid a filmmaker’s confused vision, it can often leaven befuddling results. Such is true of Kosmos, the unfortunate latest feature from Time and Winds director Reha Erdem.
The first sight in Kosmos is of a man, panic-stricken and running away, struggling to catch his breath. He rescues a young boy who has fallen into an icy river, and the boy’s endlessly grateful father quickly asserts that the man, Kosmos (Sermet Yesil) must have been sent from God. While this seems oddly plausible from the outset – and Kosmos is warmly received by the citizens of Kars, the Turkish town he drifts into – when he fails to live up to the reputation they have bestowed upon him, resentment and anger ensues.
Kosmos is a perfect example of the sort of film that people jump to label as “pretentious” and “pseudo-intellectual”, because it insists upon its form to such a gross extent, while requiring absolute commitment from its audience. The miserabilist philosophy espoused by Kosmos from start to end does little to help things, making hilariously obtuse declarations such as “Curtains are a sign of virtue”.
While the core premise revolves around Kosmos and his interactions with the city, a number of subplots edge their way in; one involves four brothers who carry around their recently deceased father in a coffin, and another examines the political divide along Kars’ Turkish-Armenian border. In fact, these side-stories wind up much more interesting, but are dealt little attention. Rather, Erdem focuses on Kosmos wandering endlessly through the city, peering through windows, and observing the happiness of others.
What Erdem does right is nail a perpetually sinister tone, accentuated by an ethereal, brooding score, and peculiarly emphasised sound design, making the most of blowing winds and the occasional army mobilisations audible in the distance. In turn, these nuances accentuate the chilly, imposing visuals at all times. As such, it’s frustrating that the sum of these parts is hollow and patience-testing; most trying is Kosmos’ quirky romance with the sister of the boy he saved from the river, which involves little more than them running around, bleating at each other like dogs and painting their hands and feet.
As a romantic figure, he indeed proves quite pathetic – as may sort of be the point – and most excruciating to watch are his post-coital advances towards an older woman, which are inevitably thrown back in his face. The more promising relationship with the boy’s sister founders because for all of its quirks, it isn’t funny, charming, emotionally resonant or even just entertainingly weird; it is irritatingly barmy and needlessly baffling.
“Let your words be few”, Kosmos declares at one point, which is just as well because everything that comes out of his mouth reads like a first-year essay of a try-hard philosophy student. The only invigorating question asked throughout is whether, in fact, Kosmos is a divine entity or not, which Erdem propels throughout with some mysterious healing and happenings of good fortune to the townsfolk.
The third act delivers gorgeously bleak visuals, and the most incident by far, but that means very little in a film concerned largely with aimless wandering and empty headiness. Only when Kosmos runs with purpose does the film appear to be going anywhere, and just then, it ends, on what is admittedly a very striking final shot.
Kosmos tries to function as a work of magical realism, as a political allegory, and as a character drama, but is so aggressively pre-occupied with obfuscating and chastising the viewer that it succeeds as none. It’s so portentous and superficially philosophical, it plays like art-house self-parody, betraying Erdem’s visual grandeur in the process.
Kosmos is on limited release from Friday.