Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Handan Ipekci
Running time: 120 minutes
Language: Turkish, Kurdish
Opens June 12 at Tokyo-to Shashin Bijitsukan in Ebisu
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Turkish director Handan Ipekci's "Hejar" is a small, quiet film, about a small, quiet Kurdish girl and the elderly Istanbul lawyer who reluctantly looks after her. Slow-moving and understated, and yet never deliberately oblique (a la Hou Hsiao-hsien, Gus Van Sant, et al.), it's the kind of sincere art-cinema for which there isn't much of an audience these days.

That's a shame, because though "Hejar" may take a while to hook you in, the performances here are nothing short of incredible. Dilan Ercetin, a mere 5-year-old newbie, plays opposite Sukran Gungor, a 76-year-old veteran, and the two build a relationship that's both moving and believable.

Plenty of films feature a gruff old man being forced by circumstance to care for a cute little kid, and eventually melt into a mellow softy for a feel-good finale. Few, however, resist cliche. "Hejar" admirably takes us on a journey with these characters where we don't know where they'll end up, and leaves us with an ending that's heartbreaking and yet somehow affirms an essential kindness in human nature.