Few films signal their intentions in their title quite as directly as Cold Of Kalandar. Set in the mountains of Turkey’s Artvin province, above the Black Sea, the impending cold of winter is almost like a character itself, in this thoughtfully constructed parable of rural life.
In the opening scenes, we see Mehmet (Haydar Şişman) prospecting for gold and other precious metals. He’s clearly no novice, but the samples he takes to a local mine are not commercially viable. Soon we learn that he is prospecting as a way to support his family, including his wife, mother and two sons, one of whom is handicapped. The family are in debt and struggling to live of their meagre income as goat farmers.
Mehmet’s prospecting has been successful in the past and he had hoped to find another commercially viable seam before the winter. But, early snows have limited where he could prospect and he is starting to lose hope. He then hears of a nearby bullfight, which offers rich prize money and decides to train his animal for the event.
The bullfight itself pits two animals against each other in a large dusty bowl, surrounded by makeshift tarpaulin grandstands, with little interference from humans. It’s an unusual and extraordinary spectacle and the event, along with Mehmet and his son trying to train their bull for it, forms much of the middle of the film.
Cold of Kalandar is director Mustafa Kara’s second feature film. It’s not surprise to read he had a background in documentary making, because a lot of this film feels like a well made documentary about life in this part of Turkey, especially the rich and subtle details in scenes in the family’s home (like their meal times) and the whole bullfighting sequence (which was also reminiscent of the Oscar-nominated short, Buzkashi Boys).
As the film progresses it acquires an almost dream-like quality, as chronology and perhaps even reality, seem to break down in the struggle to face a precarious and uncertain future. Cold of Kalandar is exquisitely photographed film which reveals the culture and challenges of life in this part of the world with a sympathetic eye. There really aren’t any villains or human evils to speak of (depending on your view of the bullfighting itself)and even the tough and dangerous landscape is seem as a thing of wonder and majesty.
Cold Of Kalandar is not a film for everyone. The pace is glacially slow and the story, is as thin and fragile as Mehmet’s prospects for finding wealth in the mountains. Still, patient viewers, especially those with an interest in the way cinema can reveal to us the details of human condition, will find plenty to ponder and reflect upon in the film’s rich visual vocabulary and the symbolism of Mehmet’s interactions with people and his landscape.
Mustafa Kara won the Award For Best Director at 28th Tokyo International Film Festival and the film was also the winner of the Viewer’s Choice Award