Back to Roots in Search of Identity

in 35th International Istanbul Film Festival

by Senem Erdine

Is it a coincidence that many of the movies in the National Competition of the 35th Istanbul Film Festival talk about going back to roots, the family, the homeland, in search of identity? Or is it a reflection of the political atmosphere in Turkey, a country that is severely polarized today in its social, ethnical, religious and cultural identities? The Field (Tarla), Black Crow (Siyah Karga), Memories of the Wind (Rüzgarin Hatiralari), My Own Life (Benim Kendi Hayatim) and Motherland (Ana Yurdu) all reflect a variety of cinematic and intellectual approaches to the same theme from different Turkish filmmakers.

The Field is about a bankrupted businessman travelling to the small town where he grew up, hoping to get the financial help he needs from his family. Black Crow is about an actress who sets out on a life-threatening journey from Paris to a small Iranian village close to the Turkish border, where she hopes to meet her family she had to abandon years ago in order to realize her dreams. Memories of the Wind is the story of an Armenian artist, who flees from Istanbul for political reasons to save his life during World War II and finds himself stuck in a forest village at the Soviet-Georgian border by the Black Sea. As the prospects of going back to the home land slowly fade away, his mind goes deep into his childhood memories, revealing the dark historical facts of his traumatic past.

My Own Life, a first feature film from a young filmmaker, tells the story of a young Kurdish man who has to move back to his village home in order to look after his father after the sudden death of his elder brother. His dream is to be a filmmaker. As he doesn’t want to interrupt his studies on cinema, he decides to film his own life through this obligatory journey to his homeland. Trying to depict the incidents he fictionalises from his own life, he encounters incidents he never expected or wanted. His fictionalised world and the real one begin to blur. Despite its cinematic flaws, My Own Life is a remarkable and touching movie. With its modest but honest and sensible effort to see the social and economic conditions surrounding the Kurdish young generation, the film differentiates itself from most movies about Kurdish people, which generally focus on brutal political struggle.

Finally, Senem Tüzen’s debut movie, Motherland, marks a fresh approach to the conflictual nature of the mother/daughter relationship. The movie tells the story of Nesrin, a young, urban, middle-class woman who has left her house in Istanbul to come to her deceased grandmother’s house in a small village in order to recover from her recent break-up, finish her novel and live out her childhood dream of being a writer. But after her mother turns up uninvited and refuses to leave, Nesrin’s village experience turns upside down as the two characters confront each other.

Senem Tüzen’s directing skill makes this confrontation a convincing, in-depth, revealing and impressive analysis of a relationship. At the beginning of the movie we see Nesrin in the truck from behind among other women. We keep watching her from a distance through other things: people, trees, curtains, etc. This may be seen as the reflection of Nesrin’s hope of blending into the village community and becoming one of its members. As the confrontation with her mother starts, the camera gets closer and closer to Nesrin, successfully depicting how the house and finally the village turn into a prison for Nesrin. The movie builds tension masterfully and prepares the audience for the strong final scene.

The FIPRESCI winner in the National Competition of the 35th edition of Istanbul Film Festival, Motherland is a remarkable movie from a young and promising director, which is original, universal, courageous and effective in its effort to capture the conflictual nature of the relationship between a mother and a daughter and in its depiction of a woman’s pursuit of freedom and identity.