Veteran director Reis Çelik’s “Lal Gece” (Night of Silence) might be his most interesting and meaningful film yet. I use the word “film,” but Çelik prefers to call his cinematic works “stories” in his title credits. Personally, this decision is a bit too ambitious for my taste, but I am glad to claim that “Night of Silence” is by far one of the most important films to come out of Turkey this year; it wasn’t a surprise that it was screened at the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.

I do have a lot of qualms about it, though, perhaps because I am a woman and cannot part myself from the brutal situation and even though patriarchy HURTS the psyches of men and women alike, I still find it very hard to empathize with confused, sexually repressed men who — knowingly or unknowingly, at one time or another — take advantage of the patriarchal system and exploit the power that is bequeathed to them. Still, I am more than sure that Çelik’s aims in making this film were to nobly show how the women in this country are mistreated and how some are forced into marriage by society and tradition, and that he chose a very realistic style to emphasize this notion.

There are no evil or good people in this film, only a dire and hopeless situation created by collective evil. Çelik tries to create awareness through his film — and yes, he does an astounding job.

The story takes place in the village of Ç?ld?r?m A??k ?enlik, near the city of Ardahan — Çelik’s home town. It is winter and the snow has transformed the village into a fairytale-like landscape. But this is no fairytale, although it gathers its strength from the folk story of Shahmaran. A man in his 60s (?lyas Salman) agrees to an arranged marriage to a girl from a family with which his own family has been in conflict. The marriage will make peace between the households. However, our man has much emotional baggage from his past, which we can only assume initially because he is newly out of jail.

The preparations are made, and there is singing, dancing, music and a bride covered in a veil. Night falls, and the man is taken to the bridal chamber. The bride awaits him; we do not see her until he lifts her veil. It turns out that she is only 13 years old. She is scared, he is scared. She doesn’t really know what awaits her, but is aware that it is not something good. He fully knows what awaits them, and he is confused. Technically, this would be pedophilia: Traditionally, it is an accepted custom; cinematically, it is shifting dynamics between two human beings who seek to get through the night without hurting themselves or each other. If only it were that simple.

He tries to coax her — he is actually a nice guy. He is gentle, he is not violent — he is not completely convinced. Yet, yet, yet… From the get-go he is ready to take her. Thankfully, cinema takes on its magic and the characters transform into live human beings. She tries to evade his advances all night — he is patient. They play games, they share tender dialogues full of wit and compassion. And, yet, the sword of Damocles hangs over them until that inescapable moment.

She insists that he tell the story of Shahmaran, a woman who was betrayed by the man she loved and who becomes the victim of powerful men who want her magic. Shahmaran dies for her lover even though he betrays her. That is always the story, isn’t it? The woman sacrifices herself — but the sweet girl does not see it that way. For her, Shahmaran is not a victim but a hero full of hope. And perhaps tonight there is hope. I will not give away any spoilers, but the turn of events is carefully and meticulously orchestrated with an unexpected outcome. The climax is a cry in the dark, even though it involves sacrifice. But by whom is the key question.

Çelik presents a film that is sensitively written and gracefully shot, even though the entire sequence of events takes place in one room. Dilan Aksüt is a beam of light in her debut performance and there could have been no one to act in this difficult role but ?lyas Salman because he emits a rare kind of humanity that cannot be predicted. His performance is one of victim and oppressor; he is the embodiment of the deviant masculinity of this society. And still I cannot empathize with his character and feel sorry for men in his predicament, perhaps because I cannot get the fact out of my head that he accepts marriage to a child in the first place and perhaps because one feels as if what they are watching is real rather than fictional. In these times, it is very hard for this viewer to accept victimized men and see their stories told, for this is the man’s story, although the female has a very important role in it.

Still, “Night of Silence” must be watched. It will make members of both genders think and question a very important and dire social issue in a genuinely humanistic way. Here’s to wishing that many silent nights will be overcome by the music of revolt…