One of the posters for Can Evernol’s new Turkish film, Girl With No Mouth, declares it a “grim post-apocalyptic adventure for the whole family.” There is a bit of cheekiness going on there; the film is slightly too nihilistic to be seen as a straight family film. But the core of the film is undeniably charming, despite that dark edge along the corners. Evernol has created a vision of a war-torn post-apocalypse, but then shot it through the lens of curious children, struggling to survive but still filled with wonder and curiosity. It is Children of Men meets Peter Pan, and is equally successful at executing both tones. It is a remarkable movie, and one that continues to suggest a truly special visionary on the rise.
The film opens by informing us we are on the outskirts of a Great World War, where a toxic explosion occurred at otherwise nameless “Corporation.” The titular girl with no mouth is Perihan, played with stunning weight by Elif Sevinç. Peri was born with a physical disability, a skingraft permanently over where her mouth should be. This is due to radiation poisoning in utero after exposure from the explosion. The Corporation, in an attempt to cover up the fallout from their explosion, have sought out those most affected. When Peri’s own Uncle comes to collect her, she is forced to flee into the forest.
There she meets Captain, Yusuf and Badger, three other children who suffer similar disabilities (no eyes, no nose, and no ears respectively.) The group of children refer to themselves as the Pirates, despite seemingly only having a loose understanding of what pirates do. They have remained hidden in the forest, away from the Corporations Hunters, surviving and telling stories of grand, imagined adventures.When Peri’s uncle comes searching for her, the pirates are forced to go on the run.
The Pirates, who are all played beautifully by their young actors, are the core of the whimsical window dressing that Evernol is playing with here. Through their perspective, we the viewer are also wandering through the world, discovering abandoned towns, hiding in the ruins that have been left behind. The setting is desolate and decimated, but the Pirates exploration of it is filled with excitement and wide-eyed enthusiasm. Thus the tension: the world these children are inhabiting is a nightmare, but their charming interpretation of it plays as almost sweet. They are victims of horrific circumstances, but they are still children, and still interact with that world as children.
Other than the Pirates, you have an adult cast that performs equally admirably to their younger co-stars. Mehmet Yilmaz Ak is especially chilling as Peri’s uncle Kemal, a driven but insane operative of the Corporation who sees peace as a threat to his own safety, and his victimized niece as a means of escape. His slow degeneration throughout the film makes him scarier and scarier the more the adventure unfolds.
Evernol, who also wrote the film with Kutay Ucan, doesn’t give too much information about the world, about the war. He’s less interested in world building than world observing, and so as the kids make discoveries, we the audience do as well. Save for a few moments, we stay remarkably close with the Pirates. Their journey into the wider world, pushing into new boundaries, is both exciting and touching. One scene, where the Pirates are playing joyously in a burned out car, positions the desperate setting so deliberately and beautifully.
Directorially, Evernol relies a lot on his young performers, giving them room to play in spaces and be naturally charismatic. There is nothing especially flashy in his filmmaking here, instead acting almost like a documentarians lens as he travels through a space both alien and achingly familiar, some sort of travelogue for forgotten refugees. But the perspective allow for achingly needed moments of levity and whimsy, and the young cast earns a heartfelt sense of warm bitter sweetness
The final act of the film grows more dire, and is likely what will keep it from being a classic for younger viewers; the grim reality that the Pirates have been born into, the fact their very lives are a liability and the weight that carries is fully explored. That infectious joy from earlier scenes is met head-on by the ugly grown-up world of war. Not unlike Children of Men, the final moments of the move can be read as either hopeful or hopeless. Ultimately it is a film about living against the background of the horrors of our modern life.
The film was made last year, and as such there is no way that Evernol could have known about our current reality. But having your protagonist wander through the woods with a mask covering her mouth (if not her nose), along with vague mentions of quarantines and epidemics, it is hard to not cast it within the framework of our current circumstances. To that end, it is a necessary watch, as it reminds that there is still joy to be found amongst the pain and consequences of adults seemingly needless conflicts. In the midst of the aftermath of the Great War, The Girl With No Mouth still finds joy.
Girl With No Mouth is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
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