Although Turk’s Head features all the elements of a truly great multi-threaded drama, its impact is marginally lessened by a degree of uneveness, leaving it among the ranks of the solid but not spectacular.
A doctor is visiting patients in the high-rise slums in one of the predominantly immigrant suburbs of Marseille. A group of disaffected young men throw rocks and molotov cocktails at anyone they suspect of being of authority. The police violently detain a heavily pregnant woman and her crying baby. A man waits for the doctor to attend to his sick wife. The intersection of these disparate characters and sub-groups of the modern French community will end in tragedy.
The ‘multiple sub-plots that culminate in intersection and/or unity’ structure is well established, and there are certain guidelines that might best be followed to enable success in writing and directing a film of this nature. It is fundamental that approximately equal weight be given to each of the stories, whether the outcomes for those characters are good, bad or indifferent. There aren’t many films that successfully juggle multiple threads without lingering too long on one or the other, and so it is with Turk’s Head, which gives short shrift indeed to one sub-story that will prove critical to the film’s denouement. It is easy to see how this could occur, but it leaves a hollow feeling when one wonders how much more successful the film might have been had it shared its focus more generously.
Despite this problem, Turk’s Head flirts with greatness, thanks largely to the performances of its leads. Samir Makhlouf is wonderful as Bora in his only film role to date, and is ably supported by Roschdy Zem (Atom), Pascal Elbé (Simon) and Ronit Elkabetz (Bora’s mother Sibel). Elkabetz was excellent in the 2004 French/Israeli prostitution drama Or (Mon Trésor), and reportedly was brilliant in the highly acclaimed The Band’s Visit. Turk’s Head will add further to her already strong reputation.
Zem and writer/director/co-star Elbé play brothers although undercurrents of tension within their family mean it is never clear exactly how close they are. Both performers walk this line with dexterity, although Zem almost steals the show with his portrayal of a conflicted policeman and older brother. Elbé has assembled a great cast to support his vision.
Despite its relatively brief running time of only 87 minutes – or perhaps because of it – Turk’s Head packs another powerful punch in the cinematic portrayal of dysfunction and discord among France’s immigrant population. Audiences sympathetic to the great tragedy of 2009’s Welcome might well find similar food for thought in Elbé’s film. That the slight imbalance in the treatment of its protagonists detracts from its final impact is a great shame.Rating: