Zuhal – Meow | Anonimul 2022

12 August, 2022

Of the three feature films that have screened so far in the international feature competition of the Anonimul film festival, two are directed by women – and of them all, Zuhal is perhaps the most surprising so far. Screened with Nazli Elif Durlu in attendance, the film is the Turkish filmmaker’s feature debut; and here, she avoids falling into the classic traps of a debut (staging big conflicts, serious topic matter, over-dramatisation, etc.). Zuhal, which had its world premiere at last year’s edition of Tallinn Black Nights is surprising precisely because it sets its stakes at a level that seems small enough on the surface, only for it to probing deep within it with a great amount of subtlety and formal sophistication, never stepping outside the usual parameters of narrative filmmaking while exploring various potentials within its framework.

In the center of the story we have the titular heroine, Zuhal (Nihal Yalçin), an upper-middle-class lawyer who has just moved into a posh apartment block in a bourgeois neighborhood of Istanbul. While waiting for her boyfriend, who is away on a business trip to Dubai, Zuhal begins to hear the desperate meowing of a kitten in the middle of the night, coming through her bedroom wall. Intrigued by the noise, the lawyer begins to search for its source, which is increasingly bothering her along with various other domestic annoyances (a cabinet that won’t fit in the hallway, a potted lemon tree that is slowly drying up): upon being asked, the neighbor across the hall shuts the door in her face, then turns the music up. The nice old man who takes care of the building’s upkeep tells her that people who live there are not allowed to keep any housepets. Another neighbor accuses her of eavesdropping and of invading their privacy. Before long, the neighbors’ kids start making fun of her. But even so, weighed down by the feeling that she might have gone mad, Zuhal continues to search for the cat.

Zuhal (2021)

It’s a very simple premise – almost like a gag of sorts – onto which Nazli Durlu constructs her narrative, as her protagonist slowly goes through all the apartments in the building (from those inhabited by old people to those belonging to young parents, from the ones that are rented out to the modest ground-floor chambers of the cleaning woman), as well as through the surrounding block, which is haunted by an old woman who deliberately sets off the alarms of cars that are parked on the sidewalk. But what distinguishes the Turkish filmmaker’s approach from the predominant models of portraying neighborhood stories is her understanding that the premise (concerning a constant sound that is heard by the main character, whose origins are unclear) should also be translated into the framework of the whole film: that is, every scene and frame, no matter its narrative weight, is constructed around a certain sound. From doorbells and various noises that come from behind closed doors (crying babies or adults, heated phone calls) to the sounds of everyday life (alarm clocks, kitchen noises, video calls and recorded messages, lullabies, musical genres ranging from ambiental to heavy metal), the sonic elements of Zuhal, which are emphasized through the construction of the narrative and its sound design, become a second main character of sorts within the film.

Sure, Durlu doesn’t go down the transcendental paths of Memoria (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2021), where the inexplicable and recurring metallic sound heard by Jessica (Tilda Swinton) is turned into an opportunity to explore philosophical and metaphysical topics, but the director proves her very particular sensitivity towards the small elements that make up everyday city life and its sea of sounds. It’s no wonder that, given such an economy of means, a moment that calls for complete silence is one of the film’s tensest – an (anti)climax that is pleasurable precisely because it contrasta so starkly with the clichéd dramatism of European arthouse cinema. Zuhal might be modest, but it’s certainly ingenious, a delightful little island in the great vacuois sea of contemporary festival-bound cinema.


Director/ Screenwriter




Film critic & journalist. Collaborates with local and international outlets, programs a short film festival - BIEFF, does occasional moderating gigs and is working on a PhD thesis about home movies. At Films in Frame, she writes the monthly editorial - The State of Cinema and is the magazine's main festival reporter.