Melisa Onel found that her international relations degree did not open many career paths and turned to the arts instead. She’s worked in theater, photography, documentaries short film and, increasingly, in features.
Her latest feature film “Suddenly,” which has its world premiere in Tokyo on Wednesday, has the accomplished feel of someone who has found their groove, but still has many things to say.
The film’s story is simple enough. It depicts a woman in her forties who takes an opportunity to discover more about herself, by deliberately choosing to go missing in her former hometown of Istanbul. In another director’s hands the same setup could be the vehicle for a thriller, an urban adventure, or a focus on the missing woman’s anxiety-struck family.
Most of us had that moment when we wished we could simply reboot our lives and start over, far from everyone and everything we knew, moving to a new town or country, changing our profession, meeting new people, and letting go of the old. In reality, second chances are rarely offered; thus, they must be seized, and this is what the main protagonist Reyhan (Defne Kayalar) of Melisa Önel's drama “Suddenly” does.
Ever since Agnès Varda's Cléo passed the agonising hours from five to seven waiting for a medical result in 1962, world cinema has often set women on an ambulatory path, either escaping from, or coming to terms with, a looming health crisis. This event is always a powerful catalyst: it forces a reconsideration of one's current, sedimented life situation, and poses diverse options for a starkly different future.
Reyhan in Suddenly is a very modern heroine: she walks out on her partner and goes into hiding, spying on her family members and going so far as to take a menial job in a chintzy Istanbul hotel. Her life opens up to random, surprising encounters and unexpected friendships. All the while she is haunted by her long-lost career as a figure skater and tormented by her rapidly deteriorating sense of smell.
Acclaimed photographer Melisa Önel's second fiction feature evokes – with a reverential nod to Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blue (1993) – a kaleidoscope of moods and sensations, as filtered through the sensitive, largely wordless subjectivity of Reyhan. She is like a phantom, blending in, appearing and disappearing amidst the textures and materials of urban existence. Defne Kayalar's performance captures both her solidity and ephemerality.