Monday, October 19, 2009

Turkish Cinema

It has been a vintage year for Turkish cinema. The year started off with the Rotterdam Film Festival having a wonderful spotlight on Young Turkish Cinema. A few months later, at the Istanbul film festival local Turkish films managed to shine through. And as the year has gone on, new fascinating Turkish films have continued to pop up, like the wonderful Wrong Rosary that screened at CIFF’s Maverick competition.

But here are 5 films that featured at Rotterdam and Istanbul. The films are arranged in order of personal preference.

The Storm (director Kazim Öz)

This politically alive film handles the debate about Kurdish identity and illustrates the revolutionary awakening from a youth perspective. The political issues and revolutionary planning aspects presented in the film could easily apply to other parts of the world like the summer student protests in Iran. Even though the film was released last year in Turkey, it has hardly gotten any press coverage. One big reason could be because of the portrayal of the Turkish police and Government. The film is only shown from the Kurdish student’s point of view and the Turkish Government is shown to be the enemy and at times things look like a police state. Such a depiction of the state might have caused this movie to be looked unfavorably in certain quarters. But the film is highly relevant and shows how the seeds of revolution can take hold at an early age as students (and young adults) can be transformed into revolutionaries. The flip-side is that these same revolutionaries can be labeled as terrorists, depending on who is reporting the story.

The Storm may not be as visually stunning as other recent Turkish films but its cinematography is perfect for the story and gives the audience a fly on the wall view of the secret conversations that go on behind closed doors. There are two interesting shots in the film that convey the mood of the main character Cemal. When Cemal is on his way from his village to Istanbul, he throws a stone in the river. As the stone skips on the water, the camera is placed on the opposite side and we witness the stone gain momentum until it speeds past the camera. This same action is taken from a different angle near the film’s end, when Cemal is returning back to his village from Istanbul. He throws a stone again in the river but this time the camera is placed behind the stone and shows the stone skip and quietly disappear into the water. Cemal’s face hardly conveys any emotion but the position of the camera gives us a glimpse into his inner state. In the first instance, when the stone approaches the camera, we get a sense of a burst of energy and this mimics the enthusiasm with which Cemal is looking forward to university. But at the film’s end, he is returning tired and beat up from his city experience. He throws the stone with the same force but the camera angle allows us to see the stone quietly sinking into the water. Cemal is at peace at the film’s end and has had enough of the city life, so one can naturally assume that he will spend the rest of his life back in his village, a place where he will be eventually buried.

These are the words for the film on Rotterdam’s website: "Hardcore and heart-wrenching, The Storm has already started to gain cult status among young audiences in Turkey."

I can easily imagine that this film will indeed gain momentum in certain sections of Turkish society but I do hope that more people outside Turkey can get to see this gem.

Milk (director Semih Kaplanoglu)

An absolutely wonderful film that is packed with plenty of symbolism and cinematic beauty. The film manages to delicately handle a few issues such as a son's attempts to get published, his failed attempts at love, his relationship with his mother and adds a mystical element regarding the powers of milk to drive away evil. The relationship of the son to the mother feels similar to the one portrayed in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys but Milk shows more maturity and depth than Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s award winning film did.

note: Milk contains one of the most eye opening scenes I have ever seen on film in recent years. The image in question was something that I had never read about nor seen on camera, so this film added a new image to my memories. I won’t give it away but all I can say is that the image is not out of context and is relevant for a thread that runs through the movie.

My Only Sunshine (director Reha Erdem)

One of the year’s best shot films!! The film has a beautiful visual language but the story is not as strong as that of Reha Erdem’s previous feature Times and Winds. In My Only Sunshine every single bleak situation is easily anticipated but the film does have a knight in shining armour that comes to save the day, but the knight is in the form of a foreign soccer fan who arrives on his boat to give the film a much needed light fairy tale feel.

Pandora’s Box (director Yesim Ustaoglu)

An enjoyable Turkish family film that blends humor with emotional drama. There are some slack aspects in the movie but those are balanced out by some quiet thoughtful moments which give a glimpse into the character's lives.

Two Lines (director Selim Evci)

A nice debut film which is similar in style to Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates. The relationship of the main couple is developed patiently with plenty of excellent expressions and moments of contemplation.

update: Wrong Rosary had also screened at the Rotterdam (where it won an award) and Istanbul film festivals.

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