Writer-director Ben Hopkins’ Turkish film The Market (Pazar) has the fitting subtitle ‘A Tale Of Trade’. This international co-production, with money coming from Germany, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Britain, is a testament to the filmmaker’s ambition, as it is shot both in Eastern Turkey and in the Turkish language, telling the story of a black market businessman in the mid-1990s, hustling and scoring small jobs in order to get by in an era of economic shift.
Mihram is a hapless, unlucky sort. We first meet him attempting to sell some telephone wire, only to find out the customer had recently been burgled of that same length of cable. Later, he loses money at cards, sells cigarettes at football games, and drinks his worries away. Not exactly the textbook Muslim, he still finds time to spare a few words of prayer, begging for the good fortune of profit, in order to invest in an upstart mobile phone company. So, once a local doctor asks him to make a quick trip into Azerbaijan to buy a shipment of children’s medicine, he sees his opportunity for some wheeler-dealing with the hospital’s money.
The Market is driven along by a welcome sense of humour, starting with an odd opening credits sequence where Mihraim is introduced by a flamboyant playback-style singer, enthusing about his exploits and talents, while standing in the back of a dusty truck driving down a rural highway. Later, the film is given a levity thanks to supporting characters that are broad, but not too silly, such as Mihram’s cheeky wife, his local mafia contact Mustafa, and, best of all, his neurotic Uncle FazÄ±l (Genco Erkal), a moany old sod who has even worse luck than his nephew.
Bearing the brunt of the weight, however, is Tayanç Ayaydin, who brings a great deal of pathos and conflict as a man who lives best when the stakes are high. When smuggling chemicals across the border, bartering with factory bosses, and facing off with Azerbaijani thugs in poker games, Mirham comes into his own, and Ayaydin is a joy to watch as the character’s awkward fumbling transforms into a confident sort of authority.
This is, of course, misplaced confidence. We’re watching The Market: A Tale Of Trade, not The Hustler: A Tale Of Triumph.
The film’s last act shifts towards an allegory for the dehumanising, innocence-quashing aspects of capitalism and business, with Mihram’s ambition chipped away by harsh reality, heralded by the persistent refrains of ‘business is business’ and ‘there’s always a price’. It is a conclusion that shoots for complexity and insight, but it is more of a tumble towards something more muddled and melodramatic, undoing the film’s early pleasures in a bid for hollow, hopeless profundity.
The Market will be screening at selected cinemas from this week, starting with a UK Premiere on 13th April at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London, and continuing with a run at the BFI Southbank from 16th April. More screenings will be announced, see tigerlilyfilms.com for details.