The winds of change are set to blow in the direction of Francesco (Alessandro Gassman); a successful interior designer living the high life in Rome who comes to inherit a property from an aunt he never knew. Promptly taking the earliest flight to Istanbul, his initial plan for a quick sale and profit is cast aside when he learns that the property in question is a hamam; namely a traditional Turkish steam bath that had been run by his aunt until the decline in its popularity, coupled with her ill health, saw its once open doors became a fondly remembered memory of times past.
Welcomed by the family who had once managed the hamam, Francesco finds himself increasingly drawn to the company of their son Mehmet (Mehmet Günsür); a handsome young man who rekindles the joie de vivre long since missing from his turbulent relationship with his wife and business partner Marta (Francesca d'Aloja). As the thought of easy money gives way to the idea of restoring the hamam to its former glory, the reality of Francesco's extended stay on foreign soil is brought home upon the arrival of his wife. Yet all is not as it appears. For the man she wishes to serve with divorce papers, is not the same man who left for Istanbul all those weeks ago.
In Italian and Turkish with sparse French dialogue, this accomplished debut feature from writer and director Ferzan Ozpetek places the spotlight on the possibility of change and how we can choose at any point to break free from the life that we have become accustomed to and start afresh. Now whether or not we would wish to make such a major change to our life, or have the opportunity to do so, are separate issues. But this work poignantly showcases Francesco's journey of change; be it of embracing the Turkish culture, the country and ultimately his homosexual self.
Filmed in a romantic travelogue style that captures a sensual portrait of Istanbul, such is as much a credit to its crew and captivating Turkish score, as that of its director and cast and inparticular Gassman and d'Aloja who excel in their roles of a husband and wife who have been together for one too many years. Yet it is the heart-warming performance by Mehmet Günsür that gives this film its tenderness and charm, with the scenes of the two men together, including the much publicised if all too brief sequence of them alone in the hamam, simply a joy to watch.
Only if the signs of sexual awakening here are a little on the slow side, then such a deliberate pace is used to dramatic effect by the contrast of its uptempo conclusion, one so shocking that for many it detracts from what is otherwise an exquisite tale of homosexual self-discovery. But then, given the country in which it is set in, one that to this day has no official recognition of same-sex relationships, perhaps the films' heart-rending conclusion is not too much of a surprise. It remains however simply wondrous.