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The key moment in Ümit Ünal’s intimate romance Love, Spells and All That isn’t with our two lovers. Eren is visiting her childhood home to further drudge up old memories and she asks a woman if the home is hers. The woman laughs. She says it is — that her husband as a gesture of his love bought her this home. Eren looks a bit puzzled before the woman laughs again. Of course this isn’t her home. She’s just the maid.
On-screen we’re all entitled to grand love stories, no matter our identities, no matter our financial circumstances. But in real life the markers we’re taught by these very stories to equal romance are not so accessible. It’s not just gifts and trips — even the thought that goes into romance takes time that can feel fleeting when you’re worried about rent. Public declarations of love require a safety sometimes not afforded and the ever romantic doomed romance isn’t beautifully tragic off-screen — it’s just tragic.
Eren and Reyhan had such a tragedy. As teenagers they fell in love — Eren, the daughter of an important politician, Reyhan, the daughter of one of his workers. A movie about their adolescent passion would have all the fire and all the sorrow of our most classic three act structures. But what about after the book is closed or the credits roll? What do the next twenty years look like?
For Eren and Reyhan, they looked quite different. While both devastated, money heals some wounds. Eren went off to study in Paris while Reyhan stayed behind and faced harassment as the girl who turned an important man’s daughter gay. Neither of them found love again but a casual meal for Eren is a feast for Reyhan and food is not love but it is something.
When Eren returns to their beautiful Turkish island, declaring her still burning love for Reyhan, the things she speaks of feel frivolous. Reyhan may not love the man she’s built a life with but she’s built a life all the same. She has struggled and she has survived and she is doing okay and okay is better than she’s done in the past. She can’t simply erase two decades and run away to live a lifestyle of abundance and lesbianism.
Or can she?
The spell of the title is not metaphorical. Reyhan cast a love spell as a teen and is convinced its latent effects are what brings Eren back to her. Meanwhile, Eren believes in love but she does not believe in magic. As they wander around the island, Eren humoring Reyhan as they work to overturn the spell, we get to see what kinds of fantasy these two individuals can afford themselves to believe. They connect like people who once meant a lot to each other and they talk past each other like people who have lived vastly different lives. Every moment shifts our own perception — sometimes we believe Eren that they are destined to be together, other times we believe Reyhan that all that reunites them is a misguided love spell, be it a literal spell or the spell of nostalgia.
This balance is aided by two phenomenal performances by Selen Uçer as Reyhan and Ece Dizdar as Eren. They embody their characters — and their characters’ histories — in full. The twenty years is felt in every line and glance. There’s also magic in the setting itself. This beautiful Turkish island — with all the weight it holds for these characters — is a location that’s easy to fall in love with. Ünal is patient in his writing and directing. He trusts his actors and his setting and it results in a film that is at once both wholly naturalistic and bursting with fantasy.
Even as Reyhan doubts her ability to re-enter this grand love story, Ünal believes in her right to do just that. If she leaves with Eren, she has to admit what she lost all those years. All that struggle — emotional and financial — was for naught if she simply abandons the life she’s now built. Or maybe it was to keep her alive, to get her to this very moment. The practicalities of life may intrude upon our grand romances, but everybody has a choice. Everybody has so many choices. And maybe it’s these choices that hold the most magical spell of all.
Love, Spells and All That is available online until October 26th.