The Palace – Films in Review

I am not one to watch action films. Scenes of violence, chase scenes, even scenes of psychological tension, send me flying to the corner of the room (if we’re lucky enough to be watching at home–into the Ladies Lounge if we are in a multiplex) where I stand with my back to the screen, crying out, “Mark, what’s happening? Is it over?” If this occurs in the multiplex, then, obviously, Mark is still in the theater watching the movie, while I am beseeching my image in the restroom mirror. I know, it’s ridiculous, but it’s because, to me, such movies are like giant nightmares that I cannot get out of.

So, imagine how I felt while watching THE PALACE, which is a fictional account of a real nightmare–the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. According to press materials, the story is based on the confession (later recanted) of one of Turkey’s most respected actors, who said that as a young conscript in the Turkish army, he had been forced to murder ten Greek Cypriots.

THE PALACE presents, in real time, fifteen horrifying moments in the life of a little family in Cyprus. The four are trapped inside their bombed out home as soldiers strafe the city, until father Taki (Christopher Greco) urges them out into the street, where they dodge more bullets, until they enter an ancient, solid palace, which seems a haven. Unfortunately, others have already sequestered themselves there and are terrified that the cries of the infant in mother Stella’s (Daphne Alexander) arms will alert the soldiers to their whereabouts.

The soldiers arrive moments later, and everyone scrambles to hide in closets, trunks, and armoires. Stella holds her hand over her infant’s mouth, as she watches through the slats of the closet as the troops swagger around, destroying and looting. When there is a noise from an armoire, Sergeant Akilan (Kevork Malikyan) orders his soldiers to shoot through the doors. They open the portals, and bodies tumble out. The sergeant is completely desensitized and does not see the poor unarmed victims as human beings; they are merely inanimate things, with rings and cash for the taking.

Throughout the scene, the camera shifts between the point of view of the soldiers and the partially obstructed view of the Stella, watching through the closet slats. This split POV is a terribly effective way to create tension. In spite of the shifting POV, emotionally, this film is not the soldiers’ story; the viewer’s guts are churning for the mother and her family. We experience her grief and fear.

I would not call THE PALACE an actor’s movie, as there are no sharply focused close-ups of actors running the gamut of emotion. The tension is sustained by the editing, and by cinematography that, in its graininess and muted focus, evokes the harshness and the depersonalizing effects of war. And yet the performances are both raw and deep. Although we almost always see Daphne Alexander through slats and dust, half obscured by shadows, her embodiment of the mother’s anguish and terror is palpable. The actors playing the antagonists, the Turkish soldiers, economically embody a hierarchy of men of war–from the hapless conscript Omer (Erol Afsin), to the inured sergeant–with very few lines and very little time on screen.

According to the film’s official site, THE PALACE was shot on location in Cyprus, “along the United Nations Green Line in Nicosia, in buildings and streets still ravaged by the 1974 Cyprus conflict.” An international crew and cast collaboration between Australians, Cypriots, Turks, Germans, Moroccans, Brits, Greeks, and South Africans, THE PALACE is a succinct and harrowing antiwar statement.

by Nicole Potter