With a premise that promises sadness, Anatolian Leopard delivers. A zoo in Ankara, Turkey on the verge of being privatized and transformed into an amusement park named “Aladdin’s Magic Lamp” by Saudi Arabian business magnates loses its endangered Anatolian leopard to a mundane illness. Aging zoo director Fikret (Uğur Polat) shares no interest in the privatization process and, recognizing that the leopard’s endangered status is the only thing preventing the Saudis from buying the zoo, he conspires to hide the animal’s death.
Polat’s dangerously subtle performance calls for few words and fewer facial expressions. He might say a total of 20 lines in the 100 minutes of runtime. And any more would be too many. He seems familiar with the feelings of late-career reflection and evaluation that Fikret bears torment from. Polat’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
The political metaphor mostly hits too. I mean, the titular animal makes reference to Anatolia. If one misses this, a supporting character, referencing his previous support for keeping the animal, makes the connection quite clear when the animal seems to disappear: “damn my fucking patriotism.”
Fikret is sick, it seems. He mentions how he too is dying, though there are few visual cues. If the animal lives in a simulated natural ecosystem, Fikret is in a political ecosystem. First time director Emre Kayış said as much in an interview, “I wanted to use these elements to tell the story of Fikret and of the society, because the story of the film is something universal, about how people are living under the shadow of these inhumane politics.” Paired with Polat’s dry performance and the dead drab of Kayış’s Ankara, Fikret’s wearied jadedness with the incompetence of the relevant political actors might just be contagious.
Fikret conceals the information about the animal’s death from the police. As they chase—and yes, even shoot at—the animal across the Turkish capital, a lesser film might merit a chuckle from the audience. Anatolian Leopard, instead, merits cross-culture political reflection. As a pandemic-era film, such reflection on political incompetence isn’t that great of a reach for any audience, Turkish or American alike.
dir. Emre Kayış
The 21st Boston Turkish Film Festival is virtual this year, available to viewers across New England. The festival runs from April 15-28.