By Nicole Kobie
Most movies let the audience experience only picture and sound. Steam (Hamam: The Turkish Bath) is not one of those films. This Turkish/Italian movie affects all the senses; it’s as though you’re right there with all the characters feeling what they feel.
Steam is about the change and self-discovery that occurs when one is exposed to a cultural shock, in this case, the transition from the Western culture of Italy to Turkey’s Eastern traditions.
The film centres around a married couple from Rome, Francesco (Alessandro Gassman) and Marta (Francesca d’Aloja). They run a business together and Francesco finds himself increasingly frustrated and irritable around Marta. The tension between the two is tangible, even from the theatre seats.
Francesco receives a letter stating he has inherited property from his aunt in Turkey. He travels there alone hoping to sell the house and return within days.
As it turns out, the property is not a house but a hamam, a Turkish steam bath. The history and relaxation of the bath captures his attention and Francesco does not stay a few days, but the rest of his life.
The family who runs the hamam welcome Francesco into their crowded home, feeding him constantly. The interaction between the family is natural, and the scents and tastes of the Turkish food wafting above the table is enough to encourage hunger.
Francesco rebuilds the hamam and visits another. The scenes are hot and humid and, if that doesn’t make you sweat, the scenes between Francesco and his new lover will.
Marta comes to visit, to see what’s taking so long, and falls in love with Istanbul. However, her love is more for the city than the bath house. The city is described in perfect detail, right down to the feel of the wind against the skin.
Sound and sight are taken care of as well. The soundtrack is intriguing, not intrusive; it adds to the atmosphere without distracting. The cinematography is subtle and superb. The sweeping shots of Istanbul are not overwhelming, and the simple shots of family life are not overdone.
However, there is more to just appeasing the five senses in movie making, and Steam covers all the bases. This character-driven movie has surprisingly solid acting. Alessandro Gassman, charming enough to be a Hollywood player, is captivating throughout. Francesca d’Aloja is stiff and boring at the start, but her performance steals the show towards the end.
Steam plays nightly at the Plaza Theatre June 9-15.