“You can be alone, but not too much”
Stuck Apart (Turkish: Azizler, 2021), directed by Durul and Yağmur Taylan, is a film that pays little mind to traditional genre categorization. The title, which links to the protagonist’s name, means ‘sainthood’ in Turkish, and presents anything but. As the film sways from absurd humor to unexpected and all-consuming tragedy, Stuck Apart picks at the thread that pricks the membrane of both comedy and drama – our intolerable humanity.
Aziz (Engin Günaydın) is a middle-aged man stumbling face-first into an existential crisis. With his apartment taken over by his sister’s family, Aziz seeks solitude. It presents itself in the form of his employer’s (Öner Erkan) opulent home, given to him to enjoy in the man’s absence – with hidden strings attached. Meanwhile, Erbil (Haluk Bilginer), Aziz’s colleague, struggles to come to terms with his blooming feelings for a co-worker, which leave him grappling with guilt for moving on from his deceased wife.
Pressing play on Stuck Apart is like stepping into a dream, the absurdity of which manages to both exhilarate and horrify. The dialogue is sometimes jagged and pointy, threatening to sever arteries with its second-hand awkwardness, and othertimes it makes its way around the globe three times before it finds the point it was trying to convey. As crucial as this techinique is in the process of hammering the dream’s blurry foundations into place, it seems stifling at times, grinding the plot’s heels in order to slow down the film’s pacing.
The otherworldliness of the punctured dialogue, along with the characters it shapes, is meant to illustrate Aziz’s existential crisis. Instead of presenting a rather uninspired character study, the filmmakers turn the rest of the world on its head, shoving the audience down the path that leads to a suffering identity. It twists ferociously every once in a while, surprising us with odd plot development and even stranger behavior on the part of the characters. And the further we travel down the dim tunnel, the more distorted the line between reality and fantasy becomes.
The longer we remain in this marginless world, the more subverted it appears, much like the perplexing reality of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Woderland (1865). The relationship between Aziz and his nephew, Caner (Göktuğ Yıldırım), aims to demolish our understanding of social hierarchy, leaving the dictatorial boy running the household. His appearance on-screen startles laughs out of an unsuspecting audience, making the most of the film’s ability to slap and kiss at the same time. The most shocking aspect of all is how much talent the boy possesses at such a young age.
With authentic Turkish music lulling us into a sense of much-appreciated safety, the gears keep shifting. Suddenly, we find ourselves confronting mortality and the loneliness brought on by the Digital Age. The truth is smacked into our foreheads with brutal honesty, pointing fingers at how we talk at each other but rarely listen, shredding dialogue until there’s nothing left but the translucent layer of a pitiable monologue.
By forcing us to sit and endure Erbil’s endless reflections, Stuck Apart makes us open ourselves up to his suffering, and to retract the magnifying glass we keep pressing up against our own problems. Aziz’s kindness serves to remind us that we have the ability to affect, and even save, others by offering a rigid shoulder to lean on. Overall, Stuck Apart swaps disguises as sleekly as its characters, leaving us wondering whether the film is a comedy parading around as a drama, or if the two genres are perhaps two sides of the same brittle coin.