The 59th edition of the Antalya Film Festival has been a showcase for new Turkish talent, and Snow and the Bear as a film has been one of the successes that has ridden on the talent of young women. Snow and the Bear’s director Selcen Ergun and producer Nefes Polat received the award for Best First Feature film, and Merve Dizdar won the Best Actress award.
You can definitely feel the woman director’s faze as we watch the newly appointed nurse Aslı drive to her post in a wintry mountain village. Snow blocks the road and she gets help from a stranger, who turns out to be Samet, the village misfit who carries food out into the woods for wild animals. For all intents and purposes this is a horror film setting -- woman lost in the woods getting help from a stranger. But the direction makes the viewer know that it is always Aslı who is the interloper, that she will not come to harm. This is not a film that works on the titillation of the moment when we’re going to see a female body maimed.
The tone, however, remains within the noir, as the village seems to be full of secrets. One of the first people to visit the nurse – the doctor has been snowed under in another village so the nurse has to run the clinic -- is the pregnant woman Cemile who seems to have been doing quite a bit of physical work although she has been advised against it. One gets the sneaking sense that she might be exerting herself needlessly in order to get rid of the baby, and not because her husband makes her do all the work.
Cemile is married to Hasan who seems to be a ‘wild one’, thought differently from Samet, as men are allowed their different kinds of ‘strangeness’ in this village. Hasan likes to drink, and he has been known to have cheated on his wife, and disappearing for days. He is also against Samet going into the woods and feeding wild animals. While Samet thinks they can keep the bears at bay in this manner, Hasan is a man who reaches, indeed, who has reached for his rifle when he sees a bear. There is, then, already enough tension in the village, without an urbanite meddling in their affairs. When Aslı sees Cemile working at the butcher’s that Hasan is supposed to be running, she reprimands them and Hasan accuses Aslı of bringing ‘city ways’ to the country.
Snow and the Bear is naturally within the genre of ‘city person comes to rehabilitate the country’ story that is familiar to the all cinema goers, maybe particularly to the Turkish ones. From her phone calls we understand that Aslı has turned down her father’s offer of finding her a nice post closer to home and that she has opted to do the ‘mandatory service’ that is required of health sciences graduates. The film does not go much into her motivation for this need to ‘serve the country’. It seems that rather than a moral obligation to improve the lives of villagers, Aslı’s motivation is a determination to face anything fate has thrown her way. It is, in some ways, a relief that the script doesn’t suggest a failed love affair that has pushed Aslı to this remote village.
In that sense, the film works on various elements of this ‘urbanite in village’ genre with a fresh lens, choosing to opt out from some of the conventions. Aslı insists on not feeling afraid walking to the quieter parts of the village and walking home at night. One evening, the drunk Hasan approaches her, clearly to get an apology for having meddled in his business, but she gets rid of him and the next morning he disappears. After his disappearance, Samet starts to follow her around, trying to do errands for her. His eagerness to help her never turns into romantic looks or a plea for intimacy. His unexpected appearances in her vicinity heightens the sense of uncanny - whenever we think the bear in the title may make an entry, it is more often than not Samet. Like all others in the village, the relationship between Samet and Aslı is one of watchfulness and distrust, all coming to a head at the end of the film.
Receiving her award for best actress at the ceremony, Dizdar naturally thanked her co-cast and crew, emphasizing ‘how hard it is to make a film’. Snow and the Bear never leaves the snow ridden village, and you do wonder how many takes they would have allowed themselves for one scene. The film delivers on its title and gives the viewers a coupe of scenes with bears, and lets the audience decide where they stand on the divide between Samet and Hasan as to how we should treat them. Aslı, as someone who is trained to save lives, is naturally on the side of saving life. The question the film asks, is of course, who the ‘real’ bear, or the thing that Aslı should be afraid of, or fighting is. Provincialism or patriarchy are the easy metaphors that come to mind, but Dizdar’s Aslı is so fearless from the beginning that it is hard to tell. The film rather revels in its cold setting and Aslı’s coolness, reminiscent of the detectives we know Nordic noir, and encourages us to settle for the atmosphere rather than use the film as a vehicle for some grander message.
Germany, Turkey, Serbia/93 minutes/2022
Dir: Selcen Ergun
Writ: Yesim Aslan, Selcen Ergun
Prod: Selcen Ergun, Nefes Polat
Co-exec prod: Andrijana Sofranic Sucur
Cinematography: Florent Herry
Editor: Cicek Kahraman
Music: Erdem Helvacioglu
Cast: Derya Pinar Ak, Erkan Bektas, Asiye Dinçsoy