[Boston Underground Film Festival] Foreign Cinema: Daha (2017) - Reviewed

Daha screened at BUFF

On this planet exists a place where monsters are born. I’m not talking about the kind of monsters from children’s tales, but the human variety, who deal in malice and cruelty, whose language is violence and immorality, and who feed off the pain of others. You cannot reach this place by car or airplane. It has no address. It has no door and no walls. It has no light and no smell. This is because it’s a place that only exists inside of each and every one of us.

Turkish director Onur Saylak's debut feature length film Daha (More) is a deep dive into this landscape of monsters. Based on Hakan Günday’s award winning novel by the same name, which was one of the first novels to document the Syrian refugee crisis, it is a stomach-churning tale of the dirty business associated with smuggling people fleeing from their war torn countries.

Living in a rural village on the Turkish coast, 14-year-old Gaza and his father Ahad, have made a profitable business out of helping Syrians find passage out of Turkey. Working with a pair of sailors, they transport refugees by truck to their home, where the refugees are locked in a cellar, awaiting their final passage across the Aegean Sea. Told through use of limited voice over narration, Gaza (Hayat Van Eck) begins the film by saying “I’m the son of the most important man in the world.”

Unlike Gaza, who is a gentle and brilliant kid, Ahad (Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan) has long submitted to the demon that lies within. An abusive drunk, he takes pleasure in violence and conflict, and refers to the people locked in their cellar as ‘cargo’. Discussing the future of their business, he tells his son, “There are only two things you can trust in this life: One; money. Two, me.” Not sharing his father’s feelings, cinematographer Feza Çaldiran frequently frames each character separately, even though they are in the same space, visually demonstrating the division in character between father and son. The evocative performances by both Taylan and Van Eck, whose explosive onscreen chemistry serves as an auspicious crescendo to Daha, only work to further this tension.

As Gaza acts as both observer and recipient of his father’s wrath, the audience learns that the monster that keeps prisoners also lives in a prison. Like a sinister uroboros, the monster dies and is reborn with every new ‘shipment’. Wishing for nothing more than to escape this cycle of violence, Gaza plots his escape, and like the refugees living in the cellar, hopes for a chance at a better life.

Daha states, “We, all of us, are the children of survivors; survivors of wars, earthquakes, droughts, massacres, plagues, occupations, disasters. And we are the children of those who survived battles, children of con men, thieves, killers, liars, informants and traitors. If we are alive today, its because someone back in our family tree said, ‘It’s me or him.” While the audience follows Gaza through this dark journey, the film asks us if escaping the monster, both without and within, with innocence intact, can really be possible. Winner of the award for Best Film at Spain’s Valladolid International Film Festival, Daha is a gut-wrenching and emotional ride through the dark spaces of humanity.

Share this review.

-Dawn Stronski