Chenaz (Funda Eryigit) is a successful woman whose work as a psychiatrist brings her into contact with the young and troubled Elmas (Ecem Uzun), an 18 year old woman who is referred to Chenaz after her husband and mother in law die in mysterious circumstances. Although it initially seems that these two women could not be more different, they have more in common than it first appears.
Screeing at the Toronto Film Festival, Clair Obscur’s title refers to what is obvious and what is hidden away from view, as well as the contrasts between light and dark. The differences between the characters – and their similarities – are immediately clear, but the film struggles to find a satisfying resolution.
Funda Eryigit plays the older, more assured Chenaz, and makes the character one of strength and sympathy. It is clear that she connects with the younger woman in her care, and it is slowly revealed that this is due to issues she has in her marriage to Cem (Mehmet Kurtulus), which always seems to be on his terms. Eryigit makes the character nuanced and relatable, yet frustrating in her perceived immovability. Ecem Uzun makes Elmas a subservient woman who, after a severe trauma, becomes increasingly agitated. Through sessions with Chenaz, Elmas’ past is revealed, yet the audience is never sure whether this is a character we can believe in and root for. Uzun does well in the role for the most part, although there are times when her performance veers a little toward soap opera. The rest of the cast features Mehmet Kurtulus, Sema Poyraz, Serkan Keskin and Okan Yalabik.
Writer/director Yesim Ustaoglu creates two characters in Clair Obscur that are interesting until their mysteries are revealed. From there, the characters struggle to overcome or even admit the situations they are in, and although the film has a powerful resolution, it is one that is not all that satisfying. As director, Ustaoglu mostly coaxes strong performances from his cast, but the film is so slowly paced that is struggles to keep the audience interest, even as we know there is a powerful message, and comparison to be made between these two seemingly very different women.
In all, Clair Obscur is a film whose final act fails to live up to the promise of the first two. The relationship between the two central women is an interesting and warm one, but without a satisfying end to the film, it just seems to end, rather than be pulled together.