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Crossing – BFI Flare 2024

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Levan Akin

Set in Istanbul, Crossing is a film that should appeal to many. Portraying the lives of three people of different ages, Levan Akin’s newest feature shows that the families we forge are just as important as those created by blood.

Retired teacher Lia is in the Turkish city looking for her niece Tekla who left neighbouring Georgia for a better life. When asked about Tekla, Lia can’t disguise the sense of shame she feels that her relative is trans. She never vocalises this disgrace but it’s clear to see in the downturn of her lips in a frown that is hardly ever exchanged for a smile.

Joining her on the search is the tearaway brother of one of her ex-pupils. Achi, too, is looking for a new life, away from Georgia where he dosses on a sofa in an already overpopulated seaside cottage. He jumps at the chance of escape, bringing no luggage, only his passport. But rather than vanishing after he directs Lia to the red-light district where he suspects Tekla lives, he sticks around. After all, he has no money, no friends.

Meanwhile, we see newly-trained lawyer Evrim waiting for her date in a restaurant. Mustapha doesn’t turn up because Evrim suspects he doesn’t want to be seen in public with a trans woman. She’s disappointed but things look up when a cab driver picks her up on the street. Compared to Lia and Achi, she is settled, surrounded by friends and colleagues.

The three main actors give such superb performances that they could be wandering around Istanbul today. It’s no surprise that Crossing won the Teddy Jury Award at this year’s Berlinale. Mzia Arabuli gives Lia a brittle resolve as she meets the type of people she never thought she would. Very slowly we see her accept that the life her niece has chosen may not be as bad as she thought. After a few too many drinks, Lia does smile, reliving her youth when she was the best dancer in her village. These smiles are worth their weight in gold.

Deniz Dumanli is the no-nonsense Evrim, determined to improve her lot but without losing any of her humanity. She gets out of bed to demand that a homeless boy who has been held illegally at the local police station be released. She’s magnetically forthright and, bar Mustapha, is accepted by all those she meets. It seems certain that her affair with the handsome taxi driver will blossom.

But it is Lucas Kankava as Achi who is the real revelation here. His performance of the unloved teenager is heartbreaking. Watching him go from restaurant to restaurant looking for employment or seeing him wolf down any food that he is offered, shows how precarious this boy’s life is. Caught between irresponsibility and the pressures of making his way in a new city, Kankava is utterly believable.

Refreshingly, Akin doesn’t write heart-to-heart conversations for his characters. Compassion is symbolised by small details: lonely Achi plays with a street cat, Evrim is unusually reserved when she meets the powerful madam in a brothel, Lia flirts with a Georgian man she meets in a restaurant. No one has to explain how they feel. It’s there in their actions and the three heart-wrenching hugs that come towards the end of the film.

But that’s not to say that these characters are cold or aloof; they are warm and generous and complex. While a sequel would ruin the integrity of this film that only covers a few days, one can’t help wanting to know what happens next in the lives of Lia, Evrim and Achi.

Crossing is screening at BFI Flare 2024 from 13-24 March.

The Reviews Hub Score

Turkish delight

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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