The Festival of Troubadours Series Review: A complex, dysfunctional tale of father and son
An intense, character-driven narrative made whole by its endless pauses and musical footnotes
Based on Kemal Varol’s novel of the same name, The Festival of Troubadours (Âşıklar Bayramı) is a brooding and intense dive into a dysfunctional father-son relationship. It is a stretch to even call it a relationship as the two haven’t been in touch for the last twenty-five years. What makes things more complicated is that Yusuf (now a successful lawyer) hasn’t met his dad, Heves Ali (a popular travelling musician), since the day of his mother’s funeral. Heves (Settar Tanriögen) knocks unexpectedly on Yusuf’s (Kivanç Tatlitug) door with no explanation of his visit, except that he has to travel to the town of Kars for the troubadour festival. It soon becomes apparent that the old man’s health is failing and that his sudden appearance marks a goodbye of sorts.
Director – Özcan Alper
Cast – Kivanç Tatlitug, Settar Tanriögen
Streaming On – Netflix
The Festival of Troubadours is a film of long silences. It is those silences, predominantly uncomfortable, that address the central themes more powerfully than the limited dialogue ever could. Dysfunctional parent-child relations, grief, unresolved guilt, and the need for closure and redemption find themselves at the heart of the story. After hours of driving a tight-lipped Heves Ali cross-country, stopping by places on a whim, Yusuf bursts. Decades of pent-up rage, frustration and sadness spill over in one hot mess. He wants answers from his absentee father, and he wants them now. Why did he abandon him all those years ago? Why couldn’t he make sure his son was okay? What is the purpose of him returning now? They’re all legitimate questions and we empathise with Yusuf. But, unfortunately, that’s not how closure works. It doesn’t come in the form of one answer. Sometimes, there may be no answers (plausible ones worth justifying, at least). Like Ali says in response (the only thing he says), “I felt you were better off without me.” Understandably, Yusuf loses his cool at that too, and tells him not to make it about himself. The truth is, there is no acceptable way to deal with such a situation. And, that’s just how things are. The man may be a highly revered musician in his circles but his self-involved artistic persona has left a trail of unhappy people in its wake – wife, ex-lovers, son, you name it. The primary objective of the road trip is to listen to the troubadours (and perhaps even perform with them) but it is also to spend time with old musician friends and seek forgiveness from former lovers (whom he has serenaded through song). In this atmosphere of seeing his father operating in the flesh, Yusuf gets a glimpse of the man’s main motivations. He even stops by his wife’s (Yusuf’s mother) grave in the process. Anger and resentment simmer beneath the surface as Yusuf isn’t quite sure what to make of his current reality, but through all these actions, Ali is seeking something from his son. He may not be in a position to ask for forgiveness, but acceptance, in some form or the other, is perhaps the best he can hope for. Yusuf honouring his father’s wish against all odds is, in a way, acknowledging the man’s presence.
The music, much like the silence, serves as another main character in The Festival of Troubadours. Soulful, poignant and melodious, with lyrics invoking everything from love, loss and a rotten world to the Almighty Allah, it manages to say much more about the Yusuf-Ali situation than the sparse dialogue. This is the kind of film that gives off a certain vibe or mood, if you will. A lot is left unsaid between the father and son, much to the latter’s chagrin. He demands questions to which Ali has no answers. With only a few exchanges, one has to pay close attention to the subtle shifts in body language between the two. The awkwardness of nothing left to say, especially on their extended journey, is palpable. The panoramic shots of the Turkish countryside only accentuate the tone and tenor of this acoustically-laden story.
The two characters are sketched well, with their strained relationship and vastly differing perspectives highlighting the film’s primary message. While it provides no closure, choosing to go the open-ended way, The Festival of Troubadours remains heartfelt.. It attempts to study the effect of reduced time on a fractured bond. If there is barely a moment to say one’s goodbye, what sort of effect does it have on the psyche? How does one deal with the unresolved resentment of an unfair and unjustified parental absence? Maybe there could have been a few more lines of dialogue for greater insight, but all things considered, this one is an intense, character-driven narrative made whole by its endless pauses and musical footnotes. A must-watch for those who believe that a parent-child relationship is the most complex of all!