Kemal Yildirim’s brave independent drama is not easy to watch – especially not by a woman. Rose is a story full of pain, violence, injustice and vicious cycles. But it’s also one of redemption and long-awaited, much-needed relief. The problem is that by the time that our protagonist Rose (Helen Clifford) claims her life back, her audience is just as exhausted and broken as she is – which for me worked to demonstrate Yildirim’s remarkable skill as a filmmaker and Clifford’s noteworthy acting talent, but also meant that I had to often look away and even take breaks from the film, if I wanted to make it through to the other side in one piece.
As Rose is based on a true story – the struggles that a close friend of the filmmaker had to withstand — the emotional and physical torture that the protagonist is constantly put under is not the kind that we can afford to close our eyes to. Usually, an unrealistic performance or sloppy direction will remind the audience that it’s all fantasy, and viewers will be able to go about their day comfortably just after the end credits have rolled. But Rose makes it impossible to carry on after it’s finished – and the credibility of Yildirim’s direction as well as Clifford’s excellent performance are to “blame” for that.
And even if it weren’t based on a true story, the events taking place in Hellville would be too believable to disregard. The man’s constant need to showcase his power over the woman, this well-known oppression that has been surviving for centuries and reaching every generation untouched, is a bleak reality that Yildirim seems to be very familiar with. And he’s also familiar with the lengths he needs to go to, to make a point. At times, following what’s happening to Rose requires much more strength than female viewers could ever go to the cinema equipped with – which is exactly why it makes such an impact and leaves such a mark behind it.
In the middle of all this, there is a little girl. A pale, innocent, silent girl with beautiful blond hair and porcelain-white skin – her colours are symbols of her innocence and fragility in their own right. Rose’s daughter just sits there while everything happens. She sees her mother being mistreated, raped, chased down the alleyways, beaten up and pushed around. She sees her begging for drugs, selling her body for money and screaming with pain after yet another dreadful day has come to an end. This little girl could cry, could scream and fight, only she’s perfectly aware of her helplessness and of the fact that she’s herself another victim – one of circumstance. A person who is forced to watch but has been left unable to act, to help herself or the people she loves.
I also feel obliged to draw attention to the torture scene in Rose – one particularly painful to experience, mainly because of its credibility and bluntness, as well as its refusal to leave anything up to the viewer’s imagination. I feel forced to congratulate Helen Clifford not only for not shying away from performing such a heartbreaking scene, but for completely giving up on all self-consciousness and vanity and making her character who she would really be. The courage that is needed to film a scene like this is noteworthy, even if you’re standing behind the camera. But letting your body be exploited in such a way, in order to make Rose’s character genuine and her torment significant, is really something to thank and applaud the actress for.
Kemal Yildirim’s film has something to say. It may not be something that everyone is comfortable with hearing and knowing, but it is definitely out there and perhaps nearer us than we would like to admit. Rose is a social commentary, a film that raises awareness and points fingers. Don’t expect to just sit there and be blindly entertained; expect to have to open your eyes and work for it.