SIFF 2018 Review: Something Useful

Something Useful is a gorgeous film with the languid mood of The English Patient, character-driven, and beautifully co-scripted by the director Pelin Esmer and Baris Bicakci.  There are primarily three settings in the entire film:  on a long-distance train en route to Istanbul, around a dinner table at a 25-year class reunion, and limited to what one can see in the Yavuz’ room and the view from his window.

In a nutshell, Leyla, an attorney, is asked by a young woman’s father to watch out for her on the long train journey to Istanbul.  The young woman Canan is a nurse who does not feel she needs to be “babysat,” but reluctantly shares a dinner table on the train with Leyla.  Leyla discovers that Canan’s journey is for a purpose other than a job interview, as she tells her father.  Leyla takes it upon herself to help her new young friend and in the process, Leyla, Canan, and a man named Yavuz all make impactful self-discoveries.

Weaving through the film is Leyla’s poetry, for in her Turkish homeland, and among her classmates, to be an accomplished poet carries greater merit than to be a successful business person, or in this case, an attorney.   Unusually, her poetry not only creates mood, but is also central to the plot of this film.

Öykü Karayel does a good job in the role of Canan, a twenty-something who has not, until now, really dwelled on deeper issues of life and death.  Yigit Özsener’s role as Yavuz is central to the last third of the film and he creates a most compelling character.  However, it is Basak Köklükaya who is exceptional.  I watched this film at the Seattle International Film Festival 2018, where one may vote on best actor, actress, and film.  Of course, most viewers at SIFF can only see a fraction of the 400+ films shown there, but of the many films I have seen this year, Basak Köklükaya is my choice for Best Actress.  I would compare her in style to an actress like Juliette Binoche.

By the end of the film, we understand what the otherwise rather nondescript title “Something Useful” means.  In Turkish this film is titled “Ise yarar bir sey.”  Not speaking a word of Turkish, I don’t know if this translates the same.  Though the title does not jump out as a very memorable one, the movie itself is wonderful.  It is not a blockbuster or an action thriller, though a life hangs in the balance. Like The English Patient, it is probably a film that will appeal more to women or people of “sensitive soul.”

This movie was reviewed as part of coverage for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF 2018).

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Movie Reviews, SIFF