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A precocious Turkish woman gets a new lease of life when she's asked to restore an old painting - live from First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Defne (Ahsen Eroğlu) is in a bit of a pickle. Her mother criticises her bohemian, freewheeling lifestyle; her friends chastise her tardiness and selfishness; and her grandfather – one of a select few who has been nothing but generous to her throughout her life – is dying from cancer. Worse, she’s dropped out of her studies, only to use her talent to restore a painting from the Ottoman Empire. Reluctant to take to the task, Defne finds it strangely therapeutic, and it gives her a purpose that is sorely missing from the cigarettes, cocktails and one night stands that keeps her going. Within weeks, she’s back on track to complete her studies – and more importantly, her life’s mission.

Inpaintings is a quietly beautiful affair, bolstered a fractured lead performance. In Defne, audiences witness the hedonism and withdrawal of a woman entering into her 30s. But there’s a sadness to Defne: The more she dedicates her creative and intellectual energy to restoring a painting, the less she gets to see her grandparents, who are fading away, bit by bit. She’s keenly aware of the irony that her dedication to history is what is preventing her from enjoying new memories. And yet her family recognise a change in her, sensing that she seems happier than she has been in some time. In one insightful phone call, she calls up her French professor to ask for guidance, awakening an interest in turning something archaic into something long-lasting.

Director Ozan Yoleri lets the Turkish star do much of the heavy lifting, leaving the camera to document the events as naturalistically as possible. The actor slips up only once in the film, throwing her paints over a canvas with the might of a Kardashian in mid strop, but for the most part, Eroğlu is strong, silent and stubborn – everything a woman on a quest to self fulfilment would be. What’s more, her scenes with her Grandfather have genuine character, and you can sense that the tears shed come from a real event in Eroğlu’s life.

Whether she’s intentionally going down the method route, I can’t be certain at this time of writing, but there’s definitely an authenticity to the lead role, whether it’s her use of cigarettes to reflect her frustration, or taking the time to iron out the ebbs that have entered the antique painting. One senses that the film could do with a higher budget, although the urgency adds another flavour to the finished product.

Watching it, the film could work pretty well as a play, although theatre audiences would miss out on the beach scenes, which are sepia coloured and genuinely gorgeous in their exhibition. There’s no co-star per se, but Zeynep Dinsel acquits herself nicely to the role of the mother. In one of the film’s sadder moments, Dinsel reveals the extent of her father’s illness, conjuring a pain that’s all too relatable for many people in the audience. If there’s an overriding message to the film it’s this: Do what you need to do in life, but always remember to lean on your family when needed.

Inpaintings just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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