This trip through musical Istanbul – from underground hip-hop clubs in the revitalized slum of Beyoğlu to circle dances at a Romany wedding – is a little prettier than it is deep, but it provides a window into the variegated subcultures of a city one musician calls “a bridge crossed by 72 nations.” Our guide is Alexander Hacke, bassist for experimental band Einstürzende Neubauten. Really. Hacke composed the score for Akin’s previous film, 2004’s Head-On
, and while he’s a perfectly plausible stand-in for the European neophyte, his puppyish enthusiasm is distracting in moments; it’s a bit like being on holiday with him. Packing a dozen microphones and a portable studio, Hacke sets out to collect the sounds of Istanbul “in order to understand them.” He finds Baba Zula, a psychedelic underground band whose drummer has a darbuka in place of a snare. He finds Ceza, who raps in rapid-fire Turkish, and Duman, a Telecaster rock band with a singer who lived in Seattle during the grunge years and retains an aspect of Eddie Vedder. There are breakdancers – the Istanbul Style Breakers, who are quite good – and Mevlevi, or Sufi dervishes. All the artists resist being categorized according to their Eastern or Western influences: “I don’t believe the East starts in Istanbul and goes to China,” says one, “and the West starts in Greece and goes to L.A.” The movie slows down when it gets to the superstars of Turkish music: pop star Sezen Aksu and sax player Orhan Gencebay, both of whom perform. Akin and Hacke rarely pause to ruminate on any of their discoveries, and ultimately the movie doesn’t deliver a strong statement about what unites the different sounds of Istanbul. Though its photography is keen and vibrant and its concept elegantly simple, the movie doesn’t quite add up beyond its performances.