TIFF 2018: SAF

Originally written for Cinemaaxis.com

A powerful, if not confused, depiction of the attitudes many Turkish citizens have toward Syrian refugees, Saf centres around a naive Kamil (Erol Afsin) who is in desperate need for a job. He does eventually find one, but it involves work for the same construction company that demolished his close friend Fatih’s (Onur Buldu) house.

Without a formal interview, nor a license to operate the diggers on site, Kamil is given the night shift and is told that his pay will be the same as the Syrian man he is replacing. This causes friction between Kamil and some of the other workers; and leads to him being harassed by the man he replaced.

It is never made clear if Kamil and his wife Remziye (Saadet Aksoy) are immigrants themselves, as most of the hate is directed towards Syrians. The hatred depicted is far from subtle, which is perhaps the point: to illustrate the racism towards every Syrian in the country, despite knowing of their painful situation. Regardless, it is overdone and seems unnecessary, such hateful and obvious behaviour isn’t needed to get across a film’s point to 99 percent of its audience.

Gradually, Kamil’s sincere and kind nature changes. His personality arc is well achieved as his motives and kind nature change. His wife notices this and is forced to deal with the fallout of the situation that unfolds. Her personality also slowly changes, with this all culminating in a poignant ending.

While it is clumsily executed at times, Saf paints a picture of not just the attitude of Turks towards Syrian refugees, but of many countries today. While some of this animosity may be justified, Saf intentionally exaggerates the situation to make its point. Whether or not this exaggeration feels appropriate given the subject matter will depend on each individual viewer and their beliefs regarding the Syrian crisis, not to mention the country they live in. Perhaps a better depiction of the refuge issue, while from another country, is The Other Side of Hope, which is not only relevant and addresses similar issues, but somehow hilarious at the same time.

Four out of a sixer.