Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Neandria (2023) dir. Reha Erdem

Part of the 2024 Boston Turkish Film Festival


Turkish writer-director Reha Erdem isn’t a name many North American cineastes will recognize. Even those familiar with Turkish cinema would be forgiven for not having Erdem on their new release radar. That doesn’t stop Erdem with each new film from declaring his own relevance to the larger project of prickly modern political art. Poet and academic Hakan Arslanbenzer, who knows much more about these things than I do, calls Erdem a “clever minimalist.” Between his newest film, Neandria, which is having its North American premiere at the Boston Turkish Film Festival, and his Covid-19 screenlife adjacent and digital minimalist Hey There! (2021), Erdem has made his career-length exercise of chronicling the modern and the political abundantly transparent. 

Modern life doesn’t share a look with Erdem’s films, which are ironically both too digital and too de-consumerized to reflect actual digital life. Contemporary political engagement, career building, and the search for individual fulfillment in a detached world do, however, feel like Erdem’s movies. Even the production of his films have something faultlessly modern about them. Hey There! uses entirely in-world digital screens and the innovative ecological production of Neandria — intentionally minimizing the carbon footprint — does not reflect old, broken ideas about the production of art. 

Neandria takes place in a village located on the ruins of the old Greek city of the same name in Western Anatolia. The lack of a population thwarts not the hallmarks of our patriarchal world but insulates them. The old men of the small town stumble and fumble to make life in the village any better. Suna, introducing the precious and charismatic Deniz İlhan, runs long-distance track and sprints away from the patterns of the status quo. She’s one of the few young people in the aging village and sticks near Mako (İzzy), an eager and politically engaged young rapper with both a deviant edge and a rifle, and Filiz (Ayşegül Kopartan), a young girl with influencer aspirations. Between the artist, the influencer, and the athlete, Erdem balances the three most common childhood dreams before slowly corroding the dreams through fully non-modern interventions: corruption, misogyny, love, parental constraints, and the universally youthful verve for revolution. 

The town’s at something of a crossroads when a young girl drowns in the river. That same water supply is at risk of being diverted through the production of a new quarry. Without haste, the townspeople find comfort in the arrival of a new imam (Ahmet Rıfat Şungar), though Erdem never allows the viewer to fully succumb to the suspicious itinerant preacher’s charm. The religious leader arrives the same day the young girl dies, speaks almost exclusively in strange religious aphorisms, and makes disagreeable advances on the young and impressionable Suna. 

Not unlike Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast, which opens at the Coolidge this Friday, Neandria mulls over the history of emotions; the former anchors the emotions to people and ideas, the latter to places and ideas. Treasures from antiquity still lurk in the historical deposits and leftovers of Neandria. At least, that’s a shared belief among the tourists and the hopeless. The construction of the quarry threatens the relationship of the people to the land — as echoed in religious adages by some and the materialist urges of others, nullifying even the memory of the archeological treasures and soiling sacred land with a hideous yellow excavator. Sitting on the stone ruins of the old city with two women, the adolescent girl Filiz wonders about place and destiny: “Maybe the men who carved these stones loved the same woman.” Another question lurks beneath the innocent observation: can we understand the modern world by only asking modern questions, by only seeking modern answers? 

dir. Reha Erdem
90 min.

Screened Sunday, 4/7 as part of the Boston Turkish Film Festival

Joshua Polanski is a freelance film and culture writer who writes regularly for the Boston Hassle and In Review Online. He has contributed to the Bay Area Reporter, Off Screen, and DMovies amongst other places. His interests include the technical elements of filmmaking & exhibition, slow & digital cinemas, cinematic sexuality, as well as Eastern and Northern European, East Asian, & Middle Eastern film. 

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