Dealing With the "Other"

in 31st Istanbul Film Festival

by Erman Ata Uncu

Forget about the hardships of production conditions, the actor management issues and writers’ block… Dealing with ‘the other’ may be the biggest difficulty in the filmmaking process. Both for the viewer and the filmmaker… As far as the viewer is concerned, the experience usually goes as such: S/he either ends up with a flow of clichés and stereotypes that undermines the ‘good intentions’ of the filmmaker regarding the other or s/he’s typically exposed to offensive villains, threatening figures. That’s why it makes it more valuable when a rare film that avoids both these traps comes along. And a film that’s capable of adding a humorous level to the issue is even more valuable, such as Beyond the Hill, the winner of the international competition FIPRESCI award in this year’s Istanbul Film Festival.

Beyond The Hill (dir: Emin Alper) tells the story of a patriarchal, macho-oriented family situated in a remote part of Anatolia. Contrary to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, another Turkish production this year dealing with the remote parts of Anatolia, Beyond The Hill constructs a more introverted world and atmosphere which is underlined by several long shots that graphically shows the relationship patterns among the film’s characters. The plot of the story — a family trying to defeat an imaginary ‘other’ which is originally invented by the patriarch — clearly resonates with the ideological atmosphere in Turkey, where a big part of the education system is based on the fear of ‘the other’. And it is also of interest to know that this element of the story was mentioned by the director when he came up on stage to pick up his award in the festival’s closing ceremony (Beyond the Hill also won the Golden Tulip best film award for the national competition) and dedicated it to ‘our internal and external enemies’, a cliché that is commonly used in Turkish history classes.

But what makes Beyond the Hill special in this year’s Istanbul Film Festival is not only its satisfying approach towards ‘the other’ concept. Moreover the way the film uses cinematic skills to deal with these issues is far more interesting and exciting. On the surface Beyond the Hill uses conventional traits of the western genre in effect. It creates a secure and exclusive space and looks at what happens after a threat comes along. But on the second level it undermines the expectations and makes an ideological statement using these conventions. A film undermining the ideology of the genre it belongs to may not seem to be an original idea in our post-postmodern age. But Beyond the Hill is one of those rare films that reminds us that we are still not through with ideologies nor the genres that produce those ideologies. And this awareness is even more crucial in Turkey, where ‘fear of the other’ is still dominant.