Can (pronounced “Jan”)

When a Turkish couple cannot have a baby naturally, they rely on illegal ways to get one. Though the plot does not seem original, the execution does, as it offers a great glimpse into the Turkish culture via Director/Screenwriter/Producer Raşit Çelikezer’s film.

The movie continuously goes from present day to future: one minute, you’re watching the couple struggling with the news that they are not able to have a child on their own; the next, you’re seeing a single mother trying to raise a six-year-old boy, Can, often leaving him alone while she works her blue-collar restaurant job. A bit confusing, it is not until later in the movie that you realize the latter story is actually taking place in the future – which is the present by movie’s end. (This will make sense once you see it!)

Though much of the movie is serious, funny moments are layered in throughout, such as the first scene. It opens on a woman’s legs in the air post-intercourse, representing her trying to get pregnant. The woman, Ayşe (Selen Uçer), and her husband, Cemal (Serdar Orçin), laugh non-stop here and seem happy in a just-another-day-trying-to-have-a-baby kind of ambience.

Cemal assumes that his wife is to blame for their inability to conceive. However, when he learns he is the problem, his ego takes quite the hit. Humiliated yet determined, Cemal learns of a way to get a baby illegally through one of his factory co-workers. Ayşe is hesitant until she sees Cemal’s desperation, bruised pride, and how much he lights up at the possibility of attaining a baby. This scene is as heartbreaking to the audience as it is to Ayşe. (And I say that as a female who has not even tried to have a baby yet.)

This is very relatable, I think, perhaps more so in the European culture than the American one, a son not able to be “manly” enough to produce offspring and what that means to him, his family and friends, etc. Soon, Cemal talks his wife into faking a pregnancy by wearing a pillow in her stomach, for he does not want to admit his failure to have a child – and the adoption – to others. Much humor ensues with women wanting to feel Ayşe’s baby and so on, which makes for a nice balance with the rather heavy subject matter.

Once the boy, Can (Yusuf Berkan Demirbağ), is “born,” Cemal is pleased though Ayşe is not. Their lie worked; however, their relationship has changed and suffers. Cemal leaves both mother and son for a different life. He winds up marrying a younger, wealthier, more beautiful girl who gets pregnant from someone else. When Cemal tries to tell his father that his daughter is not really his, his father threatens to kill him and tells him he must not reveal the truth to anybody. Cemal becomes stuck in an unhappy life where lying seems to be his only option – until it eventually makes him go insane and resort to measures that will be life-altering.

In the meantime, Ayşe continues working her restaurant job, often leaving six-year-old Can to fend for himself after school until she returns. It is now that we finally understand the flash-forward scenes of single-mother Ayşe with Can that we have seen piecemeal throughout the film thus far. Though they appear to be much poorer than Cemal, monetarily, Ayşe and Can end up being much wealthier in that they are truly happy with the little they have – namely, each other.

Can steals much of the movie. Though he barely speaks, he is an excellent example of how much a character can convey without saying anything at all. His sitting in the park and walking through the local market tempts you to want to join him. His calmness and expressiveness make you want to adopt him – or at least cast him in your next film. I have no doubt he will be a great star one day.

Ali Özel’s cinematography and Tamer Çıray’s music also blend very well into the film’s somber-yet-realistic mood.

At the end of the movie, the two leads did a Q&A. The first thing a woman in the audience told Selen was, “You’re beautiful.” The woman was right. In “real” life, the actress was barely recognizable as unhappy, frumpy Ayşewho had a tough life and barely smiled until closer to the end of the movie when she accepted being a mother and started to learn to enjoy her son more. I attribute this to Selen’s acting, which paralleled the rest of the cast.

Can was the first Turkish movie to play at Sundance and won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision.