One-Way To Tomorrow
The lockdown appears to be never-ending, and Irish cinemas are still a world away from being open, let alone an actual attractive place to visit. That means we remain stuck with streaming options, and this week I had the hankering to take in something a little different. The world of Turkish cinema is not one that I have ever explored before, and I can’t claim any special knowledge of it (though this is actually a remake of a Swedish film, for full disclosure). But I suppose you don’t really need any special knowledge to find the premise of this film, Yarina Tek Bilet in Turkey, a little intriguing.
Twofer’s are part-and-parcel of small independent cinema in many ways of course (and big budget on occasion, like, say, Gravity) a way of making do with a limited budget and limited shooting space. Solis was a recent example I took in, with a sci-fi focus. I’ve often considered it to be theatre on film in many ways, and when done properly can provide a road to intimate character and dialogue driven story-telling. One-Way To Tomorrow certainly had potential, but such film-making avenues also have their pitfalls, especially if the cast and the script aren’t up to the unrelenting attention of the camera. Did this example pass the test, or was it just another throwaway foreign indie drama?
Ali (Metin Akdulger) and Leyla (Dilan Cicek Deniz) meet at the beginning of a long train journey, where they share the same cabin. They develop a back-and-forth almost immediately, and soon discover that they have an unlikely connection, in that both of them are on their way to the same wedding. The difference between them however is that he to aiming to steal away the would-be bride, and she to prove a point to the would-be groom.
I think that where a film like One-Way To Tomorrow must live or die is on how it much it adheres to expectations. You have a good looking guy and a good looking girl cooped up in an isolated space for an extended period of time. They’re both unlucky in love, and both looking back to past relationships for the wrong reasons. They have distinctly opposite personalities, and we all know what tends to happen with those. From the moment that Ali and Leyla step into the same compartment, you’re basically waiting for them to get together.
Is such a final destination a ruinous thing, making One-Way To Tomorrow too pedestrian, too predictable, too bland? I suppose that depends on the journey to get there. One thinks inevitably of Richard Linklater and his Before trilogy, especially the first one. Told in nine distinct sections – director Ozan Aciktan even puts up title cards in-between them all, with the sections each lasting around ten minutes – the film takes its time getting to the final point, feeling a good bit longer than its relative short running time, though not necessarily in a bad way. Aciktan allows Ali and Leyla the time to become fully-formed characters by the end of it, but yet the final resolution does not feel as satisfying as it may have.
Maybe that’s because the film spends so much time on the central two as separate entities that the idea of any kind of lasting connection between the two just doesn’t sit right. From the start they are standing out: Leyla because she loses a ticket and sneaks onto the train, and Ali because he has booked four seats to travel with friends but is curiously alone. Both of them get separate opportunities to wax lyrical about their lives, their failures in love and just what it is they hope to get out of attendance at this upcoming wedding. Ali, his life consistently hobbled by a coronary ailment, wants to stop the woman who has given his life some meaning from marrying someone else, and Leyla, who has wasted a large portion of her life with a man who saw no future with her, wants to show the world that such an occurrence does not really bother her in the slightest. Both are lying to themselves, and to each other. Strangers On A Train, only instead of a murder they are both out to ruin a wedding.
Teasing that revelation out is the only time when the relationship between the two really takes centre stage, and even then it’s mostly just a case of one lecturing the other. I hope that this isn’t a failing of the subtitles, which otherwise seem to have been translated OK. Ali is, while hiding it under a facade of quirky joviality, controlling and rigid in his approach to relationships, and needs to be told off for always trying to take the lead in everything, even if it is as seemingly innocuous as ordering tea for someone without checking with them first. Leyla has an immature streak and a penchant for emotional games, such as when she twigs the connection between Ali and herself but does not reveal it for a time: Ali is the one who has to drag her out of a stupor that she has willingly placed herself in.
Both of the cast members put in a respectable showing. Akdulger is playing a guy a little bit too outwardly confident for his own good but hiding deep insecurities at the same time, and shows that kind of range well. Deniz is a little quieter – save one very expressive scene towards the conclusion, when her rage at her jilter boils over – but still manages to get across the fact that Leyla is a woman good at hiding secrets until it serves her purposes for them not to be hidden anymore. The two are able to demonstrate an effective chemistry, from early on and all the way to the conclusion, and this does help to drive One-Way To Tomorrow forward to the extent that it needs to be driven. The script is decent and the pacing well-established.
So there is introspection, there is music, there is a lot of drinking and eventually there is a little bit more (lets hope the ticket checker from the earlier scene wasn’t walking by). The ending is the real sticking point, because this whole premise is hard to tie up. Having the two get together seems formulaic and betrays a lack of risk: having them go off and never see each other again feels depressing and lacking in catharsis. In the end, One-Way To Tomorrow essentially tries to have its cake and eat it too, and the ending is not a terribly satisfying one, seeming in many ways like it might have been re-worked or re-written a few times.
One thing that I do have to credit One-Way To Tomorrow for is the way that the script fleshes out unseen characters, namely Ali’s beloved, and Leyla’s ex. We never catch a single glimpse of either of these characters, but a fairly well-formed picture of both does emerge. At first Ali’s obsession is an ideal woman: the person who was able to draw Ali out of his shell, and motivate him to change the entire routine of his life. And Leyla’s ex seems like an honest, if uncommitted guy, uninterested in marriage but happy to make that clear. But the finer picture of two selfish individuals comes to light bit-by-bit, who do not hold their significant others in the same esteem that they are held. Indeed, so much does the film focus on this aspect that it can be argued that it saps some of the time that should be dedicated to the people we can actually see.
As you would expect, the film has a fairly restrained look. The vast majority of it takes place inside a single compartment, with only brief sojourns to a dining carriage, a platform and a field at different points in the story (generally in pivotal nodes of the narrative, to emphasise their importance). The director does a good enough job with that limited space though: it would be easy for One-Way To Tomorrow to have a cramped claustrophobic feel but it mostly avoids this. That compartment is home to casual conversation, an impromptu drinking party, music, dancing and some harsh revelations (along with maybe a few other things) and the director makes the absolute best out of the space that he has: a booze-soaked montage where the two main characters temporarily give into a bacchanal-esque spirit of not giving a hoot about their miserable situations is probably the visual highlight. One expecting some kind of repression in the film’s subtext, being set in a mostly Muslim country and where unmarried couples are not meant to share a train carriage, will be surprised, and perhaps a little elated, by the unabashed flirting, sexuality and, well, sex on display.
In the end, One-Way To Tomorrow has to be actor’s movie, and the camera is resolutely locked on one or both of the principals pretty much throughout, save for the section interludes, when the Turkish countryside and Turkish music take over. On that, it’s a fairly decent soundtrack, but there is an undeniable feel that the film is trying to get across with its songs what it can’t quite get across with its script: a level of manipulation of the audience that may brush some the wrong way.
To sum it up in a word, One-Way To Tomorrow is alright. It doesn’t make the absolute best of the cast and the setting, and the ending is a bit too wishy-washy to really land firmly on the audience. But it does some good work in establishing effective characters for both the on-screen people and the off-screen foils, and trips along nicely enough that it never feels like it’s getting boring. In terms of the kind of film-making you can do with a limited, budget, limited cast and limited shooting space, it’s a pretty good, if not stellar, example. Partly recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).