Clair Obscur (2016) Review — An Acting Tour de Force


Clair Obscur is a sensual portrait of two women who are deprived of their right to discover themselves and to love and be loved in a relationship of their choosing, in a country torn between modernity and tradition. Yesim Ustaoglu’s visual mastery can be glimpsed at the very beginning of the film itself, as it begins with a novel shot of the turbulent sea during a storm — the camera rising up to the surface along with the waves which, as revealed later, is something that’s also a part of Dr Sehnaz (Funda Eryigit)’s dreams of having her bedroom flooded and drowning — giving us a peek into the disturbing psychological drama we are about to experience.

 

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Dr Sehnaz is a psychiatrist by profession and thus no stranger to the little oddities of life, dealing with cases such as that of a transgender woman claiming she wants to become a man or a little boy who finds sadistic pleasure in slaughtering animals. She shares a seemingly playful relationship with her husband too, despite misgivings over his addiction to porn and her own increasing attraction to a co-worker. Elsewhere in the city, we are shown the young Elmas (Ecem Uzun) who leads a restrictive lifestyle — she smokes in fear of being seen, dances in private while mopping the floor and looks to her neighbour, who has a happy family and freely dances to hip-hop music, with envy. Clair Obscur

 

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Sehnaz and Elmas’ lives are parallels in contrast: the former with freedom, a loving husband and a desire to explore her sexuality while the latter spends her days looking after her ailing mother-in-law and her nights in fear of her husband, who forces himself upon her despite her extreme unwillingness. As fate would have it, through a series of unfortunate incidents, Elmas ends up being a patient of Dr Sehnaz who, while exploring Elmas’ psyche and background, begins to analyze and reflect upon her own marriage as well.

 

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The film is primarily character-driven, the script containing very little in terms of plot-progression which, frankly, is not really any cause for complaint. Even if their setups were less sturdy than desirable, the characters themselves and their psychology were beautifully explored and vividly captured by some exquisite camerawork — one that prefers lingering on faces, allowing us to drink up and absorb every little emotion and detail displayed through even the tiniest of facial cues and thus sympathize with the character’s plight. Clair Obscur

 

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Ecem Uzun serves an incredible performance, tugging right at our heartstrings, as the distraught and pitiful Elmas — a portrayal that deserves a standing ovation for someone so young. Eryigit ably complements her as Dr Sehnaz — a role that’s more subdued (though not without ample screen presence) — breathing life into a character that’s not as well written as her counterpart.

The film’s title Clair Obscur is actually French for ‘Clear Obscure’, referring to a moment in the film where Sehnaz comments upon her colleague’s eyes (one of which is cloudier than the other), while its Turkish title Tereddüt translates to ‘doubt’. Deftly shot and excellently acted, it deserves to be seen even if only due to its social relevance. Ustaoglu does something interesting with the narrative style as we learn truths about Elmas’ backstory through her confessions to the psychiatrist, long after we have seen her in the thick of action, imploring us to go back into our memories and rebuild the image that we have of Elmas, in light of this newly received information; a technique resulting in us, the audience, experiencing enhanced intimacy and familiarity with the terrible ordeal of our young protagonist.

 

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When not watching films or TV series, Shaswata can usually be found either reviewing them or battling writer’s block. His obsession lies with framing and composition in cinema, something he explores by capturing the most memorable moments through screenshots and sharing them on social media.

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