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Movie Review

A Tale of a Man Who Emerges Reborn From a Good 'Steam'

November 25, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ferzan Ozpetek's "Steam: The Turkish Bath" is as seductive as its title. It takes you into the world of one of Istanbul's ramshackle yet picturesque neighborhoods to introduce you to a gentler, more sensual way of life than most of us are used to in the West. This lovely, contemplative film affirms that happiness is possible in this life--that it is worth seeking out right now, for life is ever fragile and fleeting.

Happiness is what Madame Anita, a self-described "Italian adventuress" found when she arrived in Istanbul, sometime after World War II. She married well, though briefly, and invested her divorce settlement in purchasing an old Turkish bath, transforming it into the most popular spa in the city. But even then, the baths were fading--most modern Turks probably didn't have enough time to enjoy them--and Madame Anita had to start selling off her fine paintings and eventually was forced to close it.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, Madame Anita's nephew Francesco (Alessandro Gassman) is caught up in running a highly successful interior design business with his wife, Marta (Francesca d'Aloja), and their associate, Paolo (Alberto Molinari). They're winding up a big project in Milan when Francesco receives word that his aunt has died and that he is her heir. When Francesco, who did not know his aunt or anything about her, flies off to Istanbul, he envisions a quick stay to dispose of her property, only to have his life transformed.

The usual red tape causes enough delays for Francesco to find himself drawn to the city and especially to the family with whom his aunt shared quarters adjacent to the bath. The Osmans (Halil Ergun, Serif Sezer), who once managed the bath, are a warm, hospitable middle-aged couple with two children still living at home, Memo (Mehmet Gunsur), a TV cameraman, and Fusun (Basak Koklukaya), a 19-year-old student. When Francesco learns that a ruthless real estate developer has started buying up the neighborhood, which resembles a seedy version of the narrow streets on the slopes of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill, he digs in, not only refusing to sell the bath but also inspiring the Osmans to rally the entire neighborhood to refuse to sell their property. He then launches a restoration of the bath.

The film offers a classic journey of self-discovery on the part of Francesco, who finds himself coming to terms with his true sexual orientation as he discovers an older, more satisfying way of life--only to find it as endangered as such ways of life are almost everywhere around the globe. "Steam: The Turkish Bath" is in all aspects graceful--in its performances, in its sinuous style and lush score, which incorporates Turkish melodies of various eras. It's worth letting it cast its spell.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: adult themes and situations.

'Steam: The Turkish Bath'

('Hamam: Il Bagno Turco')

Alessandro Gassman: Francesco

Francesca d'Aloja: Marta

Halil Ergun: Osman

Serif Sezer: Perran

A Strand Releasing presentation of an Italo-Turco-Spanish co-production of Sorpasso Film (Rome)/Promete Film (Istanbul)/Asbrell Productions (Madrid) in collaboration with Rai Radiotelevisione Italiana. Director Ferzan Ozpetek. Producers Marco Risi and Maurizio Tedesco, Cengiz Ergun, Aldo Sanbrell. Executive producers Paolo Buzzi and Ozan Ergun. Screenplay Stefano Tummolini and Ozpetek; from a story by Ozpetek. Cinematographer Pasquale Mari. Editor Mauro Bonanni. Music Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi. Costumes Metella Raboni and Selda Cicek. Art directors Virginia Vianello and Mustafa Ziya Ulgenciler. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

*

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.

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