There’s a brief mention of Romeo and Juliet in Anatolian Leopard, but its hero is more of a Hamlet. Written and directed by Emre Kayis, the film centres on a Turkish zookeeper director who has watched his life go by without saying much about it. Shot out of season, there’s also the matter of the titular animal, holding up both so-called progress and the hearts of the people. The question of what’s next hangs heavy.
It’s upon the furrowed brow of Ugur Polat that Anatolian Leopard rests. He plays Fikret, the director, with such muted sadness it’s a marvel when he seems to want to raise his voice. With his zoo set to be privatized (and turned into a theme park), he’ll no longer be addressed as Mr. Director. As directed by Kayis, we come to understand what that means for Fikret: he’ll have nothing left to do. The leopard is an obvious symbol of the pride he’s supposed to feel—in himself, his position, his country—so it’s hard not to chuckle when it dies, setting off a series of minor events that turn into legend. All once again beyond Fikret’s control.
This is a slow film, and the Hamlet comparison is not entirely out of line. Despite what could have been a madcap premise, Anatolian Leopard is defined by what Fikret doesn’t do. In Kayis’ hands, however, there’s so much character filling the margins of the frame. And Polat, meanwhile, really is nothing short of a national treasure.