Early on in the Turkish film, a prisoner explains the concept of Spotify to a fellow prisoner, our protagonist. He does this by showing scars in his arm to explain how the logo looks. Later, this detail comes into focus during an unexpected moment. The impact is profound because the writing cleverly allows for such ideas to get fleshed out.
The film begins with hope and benevolence. Musa (Sarp Akkaya), a prisoner serving 14 years, is let out for a day on parole to meet his daughter, Yonca (Aleyna Özgeçen), whom he hasn’t seen or heard from for years. He, along with a prison supervisor, Sedat (Ercan Kesal), travels back to his hometown, the venue where an unpredictable, heartbreaking tale awaits us. Can Musa survive the pursuit of his past?
Love Me Instead has a peculiar screenplay structure—it oscillates between extremes. For example, it starts off as a story of hope but then becomes one about despair. It begins like it were a slow-burn film but ends with a scene high on adrenaline. It is well-crafted and is in tune with Musa’s own emotional journey.
The measured pace allows us to sink into the landscape of the film before we can move on to the conflict. Musa’s hometown is infested with guns and drugs, and these are all established with minimal dialogues. In fact, there is also much subtlety in how this film shows Musa’s past and present relationship with the local gang, and whether or not he fits here. The film often takes refuge in montages to communicate its ideas.
I liked that this isn’t just a story about Musa. Every important character has an arc. We learn that Musa’s love interest—someone who is involved in why Musa was sent to prison in the first place—has been waiting for his return ever since. She takes care of his daughter and mother, and when things turn for the worse, you feel for her.
When each reveal unfolds—and some are extremely gut-wrenching—you can see how they affect not just the primary characters like Yonca and Musa, but also the secondary characters. At its centre, Love Me Instead is the story of Yonca and Musa. From the tentative steps they take towards each other to how they end up eventually, it’s an emotional rollercoaster that can get overwhelming.
Armed with eye-catching cinematography and remarkable performances, Love Me Instead is a compelling, thought-provoking watch.
Love Me Instead (Beni Cok Sev)
Director: Mehmet Ada Öztekin