One of the most exciting things to see at any film festival, such as SXSW, is exposure to emerging talent. Exceedingly better is when that talent comes from somewhere far from round the globe. The latest to make a mark is Ceylan Ozgun, from Turkey. Her debut Inflame, is a taut psychological thriller which unfortunately gets bogged down in a battle of style over substance, while nonetheless proves she has skills worth exploring.
Harset (Algi Eke) is a news documentary editor who is growing disillusioned by the lack of content in her work. Her detachment is sensed by coworkers, when without notice, she is reassigned to edit segments for the main nightly news program. Almost immediately, she butts heads with her producers. They inform her what to edit and what statements to place at the bottom of the screen, to fall within the guidelines of the state. It first occurs during a rather on-the-nose (though still poignant) moment where a speaker for the state is reminding the people that they are country of “laws & rules”, which must be followed even stating that those things matter more than “freedom of speech”.
The world outside her workplace isn’t much better, with historical districts being torn down and replaced by work sites for future high rises. Her own building seems next in-line with an emotionless landlord stating that “evacuation day” is coming. She also has trouble sleeping at night due to the construction in the area, and fears the possibility of someone breaking into her home while gone.
Although, maybe not. Turns out the Harset has been suffering inexplicably from a series of nightmare’s that plague her on a regular basis. She can’t sleep or entertain friends, instead becoming lost in news stories that appear on the television, which she knows aren’t totally true. Ozgun does a commendable job conveying Harset’s deteriorating mental state. So effectively in fact that the audience may begin to wonder what exactly they’re seeing on the screen. Scene’s that played earlier and seemed routine now demand reexamination. Moments in the latter half are even more difficult to piece together, as if they’re being witnessed through a thick fog.
While the imagery is rich and certainly calls to mind parts of of Polanski’s Repulsion or The Tenant, it doesn’t feel like there’s a strong narrative thread for the movie. Towards the end of the run time there is a sequence that suggests a supernatural element, but is never directly address.
It might be a cause to open up a dialogue about global disconnect or ignorance, but it turns out that Inflame is built on the back of a tragic incident that occurred 20 years ago. An understanding of the event is tantamount, to fully broach what Ozgun is canting to say. A large piece of text serves as a postscript to fill in the blanks, an admirable act that should have been integrated at the beginning of the film or woven more overtly in the proceedings. That in and of itself doesn’t feel entirely fair, but when it causes the second half of your film to suffer, it’s the first thing that should be examine.
While not the most cohesive film, Ozgun’s work on Inflame makes one thing readily apparent: she has a keen visual eye of someone with numerous movies under their belt. She will certainly get the chance to make another film, hopefully with the help of a seasoned co-writer, could make something truly spectacular.