Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Girl in the Woods

Director: Tofiq Rzayev
Writers: Tofiq Rzayev, Erdogan Ulgur
Producer: Tofiq Rzayev
Cast: Deniz Aslim, Gizem Aybike Sahin, Cevahir Gasgir
Year of release: 2015
Country: Azerbaijan. No, seriously: Azerbaijan
Reviewed from: online screener

I have films on here from nearly 20 different countries. I have ghost stories from Thailand and giallo from Ireland, cartoons from Russia and superheroes from India, martial arts from Chile and vampires from France. But this is something new. The Girl in the Woods is the first film I have ever been sent from Azerbaijan.

Running about 24 minutes, this is a simply told, well-made, gripping mystery with a satisfyingly horrific conclusion. Gizem Aybike Sahin plays Ceren, whose fiancĂ© Ali has disappeared. He left no message, no indication of where he might have gone or why. The only clue is a text message to their friend Mert (Deniz Aslim) saying simply ‘Find me.’ With another friend Cem (Mehmet Samer), they set to searching for Ali.

Mert takes a look in the woods, which Ali was last seen heading towards. There he meets a mysterious, seductive girl (Cevahir Gasgir) who hasn’t seen Ali but is interested in seeing more of Mert. Does she know more than she’s telling?

Crisply directed by Tofiq Rzayev, the script was originally written by Rzayev in English then adapted and translated by Rzajev and Erdogan Ulgur. There is a good mixture of location shots, both rural and urban, giving a distinctive regional feel to the picture, plus tight dialogue scenes emphasising the solid acting of the cast.

Rzayev has been making short films since 2010, with the IMDB listing a dozen or so titles. I can’t claim to be an expert on Azerbaijani cinema but apparently film-making started in the country as far back as 1898. Obviously during the years that Azerbaijan was part of the USSR domestic movie production was generally limited to serious dramas and historicals, but since independence in the 1990s the local cinema industry has evidently been expanding.

The Girl in the Woods is the first evidence I have seen (though admittedly I haven’t been looking) of an independent cinema movement in this particular nation.

With subtitles that are mostly accurate, The Girl in the Woods is easily accessible to international audiences and would be a fine addition to festivals looking for something unusual to show.

MJS rating: B+

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