It might work as a travelogue for scenic Istanbul, but "Steam: The Turkish Bath" fails on just about every other cinematic level.
Part of the problem is that this drama doesn't know what it's supposed to be about. Is it a tale of man coming to terms with his sexuality? Is it about finding your purpose in the world? Or is it about Istanbul's allure? The filmmakers seem unsure, and so will most audience members.
Also, there's a major problem with the film's pacing. While it's probably meant to be slowly engrossing and dreamy, the movie is more yawn-inducing than anything else, which only stresses how slight the material is in the first place.
And the presence of two stony actors as the leads certainly doesn't help. Alessandro Gassman (son of veteran Italian actor Vittorio Gassman) stars as Francesco, a young Italian designer who inherits a Turkish steam bath from his aunt.
Intending to sell it, along with the dead woman's other possessions, Francesco heads to Istanbul, but finds himself falling in love with the city and the family that has "adopted" him there. Needless to say, he starts toying with thoughts of re-opening the steam bath and making Turkey his permanent home.
Complications arise, though, when his estranged wife, Marta (Francesca d'Aloja), arrives and quickly discovers his secret that he's been carrying on a relationship with hunky Turkish cameraman Mehmet (Mehmet Gunsur).
It's not clear whether filmmaker Ferzan Ozpetek meant that relationship to come as a surprise to audiences since it's foreshadowed in such a heavy-handed manner. And given how quickly it's ad-dressed and then dismissed, it comes off as mere titillation (for gay cinema devotees) rather than realistic character development.
But much of Ozpetek's screenplay is filled with similarly clunky contrivances and other plot devices, such as having Francesco read his dead aunt's letters and discovering a series of coincidences linking them.
To make things worse, Gassman and d'Aloja aren't nearly interesting enough here to play the film's major characters. In fact, the supporting cast steals the film out from under them, especially Serif Sezer and Halil Ergun, playing the couple that takes Francesco in which begs the question as to why the movie isn't about them instead.
"Steam: The Turkish Bath" is not rated but would probably receive an R for scattered profanities, glimpses of male and female nudity, use of crude slang terms, a stabbing and brief gore.