Review: A Hard Day in the Empire

Written and directed by Sezen Kayhan, an art department assistant desperately tries to make the director happy on a challenging day at the set of an Ottoman soap opera. Starring: Ayris Alptekin, Ezgi Ay, Cem Baza, Murat Kiliç, Sezgi Mengi and Reyhan Özdilek.

It’s well documented that over the years there has been many a director who acts like a complete tyrant and has basically no respect for anyone other than themselves, treating their crew as meagre factotums to bend to their will, which is exactly what this film captures. First impressions are always important and A Hard Day in the Empire pretty much knocks it out of the park with well put together credits followed by a seamless transition into an atmospheric opening before being firmly kicked back to reality. You’d have to either be both blind and deaf or a terrible person to not immediately see how much of a terrible dictator this director is, he’s the classic stereotype and it’s a positive comment on Kiliç’s performance that you can’t help but hate him. We’ve all had a boss that talks to you as if you’re an idiot but at the same time expects you to be able to anticipate their every need without making any real indication of what that is, which is the note that Kiliç hits perfectly, and if you haven’t had a boss like that, then consider yourself lucky.

With all of this feeling sadly realistic, Alptekin’s Cansu provides the ideal sympathetic character, it’s effortless to relate to her and the performance is completely grounded and natural. There aren’t any weak performances here, they each fit together well and make a great ensemble cast, with the right notes of drama and comedy. This reflects the quality of the writing, it’s funny when it needs to be, it’s dramatic when it needs to be and it balances the two extremely well, it arguably falls slightly more to the former but that nicely sets up for its finale. The final note ends things on possibly the best comedic choice of the script and makes for a satisfying resolution to the story. There was room to hit Cansu’s final speech with more of a bang, it’s effective and very enjoyable to watch but isn’t as much of the explosion of frustration that would have been incredibly rewarding, however she undoubtedly gets a good few shots in.

It tackles an ongoing issue that is much more universal than just in television or film, of those in positions of power not having respect for those working below them and also highlights that this behaviour continues so long as it’s allowed to. It’s also an interesting aspect delving into the assistant director’s actions, that potentially while he is trying to somewhat protect Cansu, his choice of language, as to not upset the director, only encourages that behaviour to continue because it isn’t demonstrating that it’s wrong. Those actions then open up a whole conversation about risk versus reward of speaking out against hostile and inappropriate behaviour, while trying to pay your rent and that most people will ultimately play it safe, making it vital for people to band together against it, rather than let one lone person take all the heat and consequences.

Sezen Kayhan has made a film that dives head on into an issue that affects a lot of people because mistreatment in the workplace by superiors will probably always exist across many industries and all genders, but she’s done it in a way that adds comedy without stepping out of reality. The film uses simple settings that have high production value and has a style that feels almost like a mockumentary but without too high a dose of parody, instead sticking to drawing humour naturally from events that could easily be taking place at any given moment. The entire film feels depressingly realistic but does so in a way that both gets the message across and is fun, enjoyable and satisfying.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Check out the trailer below!

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