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Who would have ever thought that the legendary Claudia Cardinale would have bestowed her presence on the pleasant Turkish film "Sinyora Enrica ile İtalyan Olmak" (Being Italian with Signora Enrica)? Well here she is, and with all her Italian gusto she pulls a "Madame Sousatzka" on the clueless young man Ekin (İsmail Hacıoğlu), who has a thing or two to learn about life and love.
Directed by first-timer Ali İlhan, the film was also part of the national competition lineup at the Antalya Golden Orange International Film Festival this past year, sweeping the best actress award and a special jury prize for its producer, Elvan Albayrak.
Now one of the most impressive things about the film, beyond the acting and direction, is that the film crew managed to transform a neighborhood of İstanbul into Italy's Rimini, believe it or not. Talk about successful location management and art direction! Anyhow, so it all starts 40 years ago, on a rainy night, which takes us back to Enrica's youth. She is a young mother who is suffering the worst of marital problems. When her husband finally leaves her for another woman, this completely transforms Enrica and leads her to swear off men and ban them from her existence and from her house for the rest of her life. This also includes her son, Giovanni, who has now become a vagrant and a gambler who sees no problem in sucking his mother's bank account dry.
Looking at Enrica in the present, a boisterous and dominant old woman, one immediately realizes that she runs a tight ship at home: She boards only female students in her house and does some tailoring in the meantime. Of course, men are never allowed to be near her, even in her garden. But one day a small mistake occurs, and Ekin, a male student from Turkey who has come to Italy to learn Italian, arrives on her patio looking for a place to stay. Enrica cannot believe this, and she doesn't let him inside. But, of course, this is a movie about transformation, so eventually Ekin, being the sweet and harmless nerd he is, is given a room by the "witch" and also develops a crush on the Sicilian girl Valentina (Lavinia Longhi) who stays in the room across from his.
Ekin is baffled by Enrica's utter loathing of him because of his gender, and the language problem doesn't help either of them. But one night, when Ekin saves Enrica from her violent son, the tables turn. Enrica decides to teach Ekin Italian and, of course, a thing or two about adulthood. They develop a unique friendship that Ekin (as we see in the oncoming flash forwards where he's got the worst old person make-up) will never forget.
What drives the story -- and the most enthralling element of the film -- is surely the stirring friendship between this old woman and young man. Written with astute and hilarious dialogue, the relationship is inhabited by two very different actors who form a genuine chemistry that manages to carry the film from start to finish. Of course, if you've got Cardinale in your film, you are bound to have a kick-start, though Hacıoğlu, younger and less experienced, stands his ground next to this mighty lady and proves that he is as competent as she is. The story couldn't have it otherwise, for only two stubborn and alluring actors could have shared the stage.
A little more on Cardinale: She is still incredibly beautiful and strong-headed despite her aging self as she utilizes her comedic capacities in this man-hating role. A moment of self-reflection takes form in one of the funniest and most ironic scenes in the film as Enrica laments about her youth.
"Signora Enrica" is a heartwarming comedy where an old lady finds that life is never too short and has much to offer thanks to the introspection caused by a naïve youth, and where a young man realizes that life is full of hardships and beauty thanks to the wise old lady.
Sure it's full of clichés and stereotypes, but it's all crafted in a wonderfully humorous way that is worthy of this Mediterranean collaboration that duly evokes the warmth of its geographical psyche. I love it when a film makes you want to sit in the garden with your friends and family and consume good cheese, olives, tomatoes and every other Mediterranean dish you can think of that creates an idea of a "wholesome life" (even if it never happens). Cardinale is waiting in the theaters this week to show you a thing or two about zeal and passionate living.
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