Anatolian Leopard traces the end of an era in muted colors and a somber mood sparked by dry humor. Written and directed by Emre Kayiş, the film reflects larger themes through a close focus on zoo director Fikret, as he sees his life’s work come to an end. As privatization sweeps the country, the public zoo will be shut down to make way for a theme park – Aladdin’s Magic Lamp. Uğur Polat stars as Fikret, each one of life’s disappointments etched in the lines on his face, his dark eyes revealing the sorrow of a lifetime of resignation.
Understated and precise, the film tells its story in the details. One learns about Fikret through his actions, and his relationships with others. Getting out of his car at the zoo, he’s first seen comically walking on his heels to avoid getting mud on his shoes. As he walks towards the administration building, he passes the sign marking the parking space reserved for the zoo’s director. Before he’s uttered a word, we already know that he’s a person who does not even try to claim what is rightfully his own. Yet even as they depart, his employees at the zoo treat Mr. Director with fond respect, intimating that there must be something about Fikret to inspire those feelings.
As it turns out, there is an obstacle that is delaying the zoo’s closure. Among the zoo animals is an Anatolian Leopard, considered an “indigenous cultural asset.” The zoo cannot be closed until an appropriate home is found for the leopard. The proper procedures must be followed, and his assistant Gamze (Ipek Türktan), apologetically informs Fikret that a solicitor has called requesting the leopard’s birth certificate. Divorced and distant from his only daughter, Fikret grimly grinds through his daily routine, somber and morose. Even when he is drinking with friends, he seems lonely and alone. As someone who gets along better with animals than with humans, nothing can be more devastating for Fikret than the closure of the zoo.
Fikret chooses to act, and his choice leads to a series of events, some are humorous, others unfortunate. Ipek Türktan delivers a touching performance as Gamze, Fikret’s loyal assistant whose primary function appears to be delivering disappointing messages in a regretful tone, yet emerges in a different light, that reveals her courage and sense of adventure. Tansu Biçer is delightfully intimidating in the role of the prosecutor, his conversations with Fikret and the stories he tells infuse the film with suspense and evoke the resonance of a mythic past. Yet ultimately, Fikret carries the weight of this quiet gem of a film, and Uğur Polat’s performance evokes empathy for a man who in his confrontation with fate, approaches, in his own small way, the heroic.
Anatolian Leopard (original title: Anadolu Leopari)
Turkey/Poland/Germany/Denmark/2021/108 min/Turkish with English and Hebrew subtitles
Director: Emre Kayiş; Screenplay: Emre Kayiş; Cinematography: Nick Cooke; Editing: Ricardo Saraiva; Cast: Uğur Polat, Ipek Türktan, Tansu Biçer, Seyithan Özdemir; Awards: FIPRESCI Jury Award at the Toronto International Film Festival