Review: Sibel, an impressive movie about Otherness from a mute outcast’s eyes

Award-winning Turkish drama Sibel made its UK debut on 6 December, Thursday evening at the birthplace of British cinema, Regent Street Cinema during London Film Week 2018.

Sibel is the third collaboration between Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti and explores the “topic of exclusion and our relationship to the unknown, to the ‘Other” finely.

Presented at the Toronto Film Festival and winner of the FIPRESCI International Critics’ Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, Sibel is about a 25-year-old mute outcast woman living in Kuşköy, a remote mountain village near Turkey’s Black Sea.

Villagers continuously discriminate against her not only because she is mute, but also different. She doesn’t fit the typical ways of women in the village and instead challenges the socially constructed gender roles. Sibel has a rifle and goes hunting. She never wears a headscarf. Moreover, she dares to connect with a mysterious injured fugitive who arrives the neighbouring forest.

Tired of her on-going exclusion in society, Sibel enjoys this unknown man’s attention. While the village is not happy about it, she never conforms to their rules nor pays attention to their reactions. She tries to prove herself in her own way. She relentlessly hunts down a wolf that is said to be prowling in the neighbouring forest, sparking off fears and fantasies among the village women.

It turns out Sibel can communicate with the whole village, but they just don’t get along well. They talk in whistle or bird language (kuş dili), which is a 500-year tradition in Kuşköy to communicate across the region’s deep valleys (this special language is recognised by UNESCO). Despite being a mute, Sibel is able to build a relationship to a complete unknown who can’t understand the whistle language.

Sibel’s leading actress Damla Sönmez’s performance is as impressive as the storyline. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for an actress to express her feelings without speaking even once throughout the movie. She was named Best Actress at both the 2018 Adana Film Festival and London Film Week 2018. Her ability to mime and fluently talk in the whistle language definitely deserve a big acclaim.

It’s through Sönmez that the audience engages with the movie, as we had to draw our own meanings from her non-verbal acting. Also, the directors did a perfect job in symbolising some of these meanings for us. My favourite scene is when Sibel cries and screams silently, even without any background noise. It is not only her silent scream, but also her power to mute the entire world, which she continues successfully throughout the movie.

It’s easy to see why Sibel has proven to be so popular with international audiences, so make sure to catch the movie when you can. Don’t worry, whistle language has subtitles!