Silhouette members discussed and debated Semih Kaplanoglu’s Milk (Sut) following a private screening. This is the second film in a trilogy (Egg, Milk, Honey) which were produced in reverse chronological order. The trilogy explores the middle-age (Egg), adolescence (Milk) and childhood (Honey) of the central character Yusuf. Yusuf helps his widowed mother Zehra sell milk and cheese, but he dreams of being a poet. However his world gets unsettled when he learns his mother’s affair with a man in town. The story captures Yusuf’s relationship with his mother, his anxiety for an insecure future and his painful journey from adolescence to manhood. Silhouette recommends the film.
Anwesha Deb, Diptansu Sengupta, Doelpakhi Dasgupta, Partha Sarathi Raha, Sambaran Sarkar, Subhadeep Ghosh
Things that worked:
Milk is a cinema about transition through conflicts – the group concurred. Diptansu observed the transition in many forms. Being caught between youth and adulthood Yusuf faced this transition in several layers as the responsibility towards his family as well as his relationship with his mother changes silently. Diptansu reflected that these changes are often represented through the form of milk. The way milk is depicted in different solid, liquid, semi-solid or powdery forms throughout the movie relating to the ever changing situations in life, milk became the metaphor for life itself. Although aware of these inevitable changes Yusuf refused to accept those initially and finally forced to do so through a series of changes and conflicts in his inner space.
Doelpakhi found the conflict of space portrayed brilliantly, through the modern urban apartments and high risers, set against the small village house amidst the beautiful pastoral landscape. Emphasized through prolonged shots and repetitive frames the space around Yusuf assumed the common space of many, his conflict became that of youth in general. Yusuf’s room captured in fragments could belong to any one. His journey through adolescence to adulthood was similar to that of his friend and many like him walking across the construction field or teaming in the industrial backdrop. They were all unified in a common destiny hinting to a rather omnipresent phenomenon of our time. The film successfully transcends to universality while focusing on a life of individual.
For Anwesha, the red motorbike, which was an important means for Yusuf and his mother (Zehra) to commute to city for making a living out of selling milk and cheese, also became a vehicle of change in their relationships. In the first part of movie we saw Zehra met a man who helped her repairing the motorbike. Zehra, a widow for long time, was drawn into the relationship with him gradually. It brought the crisis in Yousuf’s life. He could not accept the shift. He felt insecure and being replaced. While he had been trying to take up the responsibilities of livelihood selling milk to apartments roaming with the motorbike, later on we found him riding the motorbike in desperation, spying Zehra and the man at different places and meeting a road accident. The red color of motorbike was so vibrant that stood out in striking contrast against the soothing nature in background. It helped us feel the tension generated out of conflicts engulfing Yusuf’s life. Anwesha pondered that the choice of the striking red color and overwhelming mechanical sound breaking the placidity of nature was both physical and metaphorical. Red, the color of passion as well as of suffering, signified the underlying stream of consciousness of Yusuf for his relation with mother, his dreams of being a poet and conflict with realities with an insecure future, and changes he resisted. Being an introvert and a poet by heart, he felt awkward in most of the places and took refuge to his world of poetry, his little room and typewriter, and his mother. Mother’s affair with a man threatened his belongingness. Diptansu found the rendering of Yusuf’s struggle touching – no matter what Yusuf tried to set things right, he was as if pre-destined for an unavoidable tragic end he was bound to accept.
Yusuf’s struggle and journey to his ultimate destiny was narrated with a meticulous plotting of establishing tranquility and rhythm of simple village life then subsequently breaking it with Yusuf’s turmoil and aggressive outburst – repeatedly. And each time it grew even more intense as plot progressed – Partha reflected. From the depressing revelation of his friend’s helpless condition, breaking the basketball court light in anger to chasing the hunter with stone at wetland and so on, we watched him losing. Constructed all the way through poetic treatments with exquisite and slow paced frames, our romantic empathy with Yusuf’s life was attempted to change in final shot to a perception of even more intense pain. Yusuf turned to us straight and his headlamp almost burnt our eyes with exploding milky white light covering the frame. The narrative was drawn heavily and sometimes overindulgently towards multiple metaphors in order to explore the transition of Yusuf’s psyche from adolescent to manhood.
While all wondered what could be exact significance of some of the metaphors like rural exorcism in beginning, or whether the snake could be real or existed only in psyche, for Subhadeep the blurring line between dream and reality, seamless transition between metaphors and mundane elements brilliantly captured the mysteriousness of human perception and relationships with the surround. The milk connected motherhood, their daily livelihood, passion or rural exorcism as one organic fluid of life. Those are with inherent conflicts yet coexist in diffused boundary. In the chiaroscuro of the moon and streetlamp in frame, we vaguely watched from far Zehra and Yusuf coming close together. The mystery and serenity of the image transcended them beyond the confinement of their specific time and space.
Sambaran found it fascinating how the intricate relationship of son and mother was cinematically portrayed where mother archetype and a man-woman relationship at sublime level were intermingled. The physical features, especially, the faces of Yusuf and his mother helped enormously in this pursuit, he thought. A baby always remained in Yusuf’s grown-up face whereas his mother always carried an archetypal mother-like expression replete with feminine youthfulness.
One of the uniqueness of the cinema was use of gaze which became a subject itself. Subhadeep reflected how we watched Yusuf and Zehra staring at somewhere many times however we never saw what they were looking at. Even though the cinematography was a visual treat, probably the strongest part of the film, the group unanimously agreed, was the use of soundscape. There were very few dialogues, but the sound design was very busy and intelligently executed. The sound of wind, rain, cowbells, traffic and mechanical sounds, etc. all brought the reality alive on screen with a rare precision.
Things that didn’t work:
The group did not find anything major that did not work. Diptanshu found prolonged shot of girl and protagonist in the ruins a bit unnecessary though. However it appeared to Partha as a summary shot establishing the protagonist’s character and inwardness. Doelpakhi reflected the girl’s presence (at the scene of ruins) was not carried well in a film otherwise marveled by all the natural performances, especially for Yusuf’s characterization.
Parts of the film that will be remembered:
Diptansu and Doelpakhi recollected the scene of Yusuf with his industrial worker friend who happened to be a poet as well. It touched our heart in sorrow, when he gave his diary of poetry to Yusuf to type and post for him to a magazine. Doelpakhi also found the scene dealt very sensitively when Yusuf switched his chair from the writing position, facing the typewriter from other side while reading the call letter for interview from the military. Subhadeep remembered the way Yusuf’s silent agony is expressed when he broke the basketball light with stone. Sambaran remembered the image of bonding between Yusuf and Zehra set in the chiaroscuro of moonlight and streetlamp. He also loved the scene where the black magic man asked Yusuf, both lying on their chests in the field, ‘Can you hear the sound of water? Anwesha reflected the mesmerizing beauty of Zehra with feathers dotted in frame like a dream. Subhadeep remembered the climax scene when the big catfish fell out of Yusuf’s hand. It was simultaneously end of hope, acceptance of harsh reality and relief from the burden of turmoil he had been carrying around. It was the final moment of Yusuf’s transition to manhood.
The other texts (films or otherwise) which come to mind watching this:
Diptansu and Doelpakhi found a thematic parallel with Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito which happened to be middle part of Apu trilogy as well. Apu similar to Yusuf was also going through transition of adolescence and film explored Apu’s relationship with his mother and its role in Apu’s transition. Diptansu recalled struggle of elder sister in Ritwik Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara similar in its conflict with wish and reality. Subhadeep found a strong resemblance with Andrej Tarkovsky’s Mirror in its treatment. With the scene of wide landscape where the village man fell, the scene of mother peeling feathers, the mysteriousness and overall aesthetics of pure image and sound – it could probably be imagined as Kaplanoglu’s homage to the master film maker.
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