Drama of Generational Exchange: National Competition of Turkish Films
The intense need to tell stories about the problems of relations between parents and children always indicates upcoming or ongoing social changes. There are not only the conflicts between traditional and modern thinking, or conservative and liberal lifestyles as we know them from Europe’s historical topography of the 1950s and 1960s. The globalizing world has blurred clear forms of existing cultural and social stereotypes and raises more complicated questions related to the functioning of the family. These family stories often serve as a mirror that reflects much wider social conflicts. They illustrate the efforts of society to find an appropriate balance.
After the fall of communism, Eastern Europe focused its stories on the failure of parents under the pressure of a totalitarian regime. We saw a wide variety of films about attempts to hide cooperation with the secret police, the willingness to sacrifice moral integrity because of career or the future of one’s children, and many other variations of reflection aimed in this direction.
The difference is clearer in the comparison of Turkish films with Iranian films, where the theme of family relationships is the central issue in contemporary cinema. Interestingly, generational conflicts in this circuit appear very rarely. Films mostly tell stories about problems based on specific conditions for the functioning of society, determined by religious rules. The fact is that the family territory is the only space where films can officially talk about the relationship between a man and a woman.
From this point of view the panorama of the Turkish films screened in the 35th Istanbul Film Festival is very interesting. Traditionally, behind the realistic stories we can read metaphorical representation. Because of the pressure of the selective ongoing reconstruction of the religious rules of social life, a lot of topical issues are translated and transformed into resistance to the parents’ generation. Sons and daughters try to get rid of traditional obligations. They refuse to act according to parental expectations, to accept negotiated marriages or the subordinate position of women in the patriarchal family, etc. Opposition to state patriarchalism and conservativism runs in the family environment, in disputes of parents and children.
The FIPRESCI jury gave its award in the National Competition to the film Motherland by director Senem Tüzen. Nesrin, the main character, a young woman from Istanbul, comes to her old abandoned family house in the village. She is divorced, has left her job and wants to finish her novel. Her authoritative mother comes to save her broken reputation and confronts her daughter’s resistance. Therapy, according to her full conviction, lies in return to faith. She advises her daughter to seek the power to write in the mosque and insists on her participation in the daily prayer. She discusses her failed marriage with a group of neighbors and seeks their advice. The road to reconciliation between daughter and mother ends in a stalemate.
The taxi driver Ahmet resists parental dictates in Wedding Dance, directed by Cigdem Sezgin. He bravely turns off from the road that has been paved for him by his parents’ intention to marry him to their chosen bride as soon as possible. He falls in love with Leyla, who works as a dressmaker. Ahmet, just like Nesrin, faces the reproaches of an embittered mother. He ignores his family, joins Leyla and sells his taxi in order to run a wedding-dress salon business. Leyla, still very beautiful, is older than Ahmet and has a broken reputation after her unsuccessful relationship with a man who left her. The illusion of a shared life with Ahmet melts the moment when her former lover returns. She abandons Ahmet, and the disappointed rebel seeks relief back with his family. He accepts the marriage they have arranged, and the film ends with the wedding party. It is a drama of unsuccessful revolt. The family and its relentless rules win eventually.
Tarik, the hero of the film Field by director Cemil Agaciokoglu, heads for his parents’ house in the village in order to save his business which is near to bankruptcy. He wants them to sell their field, the only property they have. The father at first refuses his request, but under pressure from his mother he agrees. The condition is that Tarik has to bring his younger brother Emre to Istanbul and take care of him. The brothers travel to the city by car. Tarik is angry; he is far from willing to take on responsibility for his lazy, childish sibling, constantly munching nuts and sipping beer from a can. Tarik waits in the rain for his creditor and begs him to leave him at least his house. A short meeting ends in a fiasco. Emre surprisingly reacts, supporting his brother .They will start together again. Again in this case, the family bond guarantees support and hope for the future.
All roads lead back to the village also for Adnan, hero of the film My Own Life (director: Adnan Akdag). After the death of his older brother, Adnan has to take care of his partially paralyzed father and his entire farm. Adnan tries to convince his mother to sell all their property. As we later find out, all we have seen is a fiction. The young film director came to the farm to shoot a film based on his own autobiography. But everything fails: he is able neither to finish his film nor to improve his life.
The decision to risk one’s life and illegally cross the border to see one’s father is the theme of the film Black Crow by Tayfur Aydin. Sara, a young Iranian woman, fled from Iran to France, where she became an actress. Her father sends her a letter in which he asks her to return. The dramatic journey through the winter mountain ends in disappointment. The father is not alive anymore. The interesting story fails due to the lack of directorial professionalism and probably also lack of funding.
The winner of the National Competition and the new owner of the Golden Tulip is the film Dust Cloth by Ahu Ozturk. Nesrin is a Kurdish woman. In order to force her husband to look for a job she expels him from the house. She works as a cleaner in several houses, but her meagre income is not enough even for a modest life. In the end, resigned, she leaves her five- year old daughter to her father. He decides to send her back to the village. The girl is saved by Hatun, her friend, who was the only support of her desperate situation. She is also Kurdish and lives in a stable marriage, dreaming of a better life in a new appartment. The fate of two Kurdish women is the picture of hopelessness in the middle of a merciless city, breaking or weakening any family ties.
All the stories clearly confirm the unfailing magnetism of the family circle ruled by the dominant figures of the parents. The heroes and heroines of the films, in different variations, confront a firm and uncompromising order. They thrash about in remorse because the will to go their own way means leaving the family and the tradition they represent. They are lonely and desperate people, unable to shape their lives according to their wishes, wallowing in unrealized ideas and dreams. Fleeting hope for change is minimal. This group portrait of the social status quo is bleak and pessimistic, and it is questionable to what extent it corresponds to the real situation and how much it is a demonstration of shared resistance to patriarchal imperatives.
Behind the dramas of generational conflicts we can see not only protest against the return of conservatism and patriarchal power, but also a broader struggle between urbanized cities and underdeveloped rural areas. Apparently, they are still divided by a deep cleavage.
Swaying Waterily (Majority) by Seren Yuce is an interesting example of a story in which the generational conflict is absent. Handan and Korhan are a married couple, living their life in a posh quarter of Istanbul. He is a businessman, she is a well-kept wife, longing to rival the skills of her friend Sermin, a writer whose books are published in respectable circulation. Sermin is recognized by her readers in restaurants, and Handan is jealous. Handan tries to start writing as well, and she persuades Sermin to run a new café. Korhan, who has a business with hunting weapons, tries to refresh his boring life by looking for women through the internet. He is not very succesful, so at a dinner he tries to seduce Sermin. The collapse of the friendship of the two couples is inevitable.
The urban life of the nuclear family is out of sight of parents and free from generational disputes. In these places, and in this social niche and class status, the pressure of the traditional way of life ends.
In this perspective, the fierce pursuit of Mehmet, the middle-aged hero of the film Cold of Kalandar, is very different. He tries to escape his miserable life in the mountains by searching for gold veins, or at least by bringing a young bull to win the local bullfighting contest. To be able to change one’s fate means, necessarily, to become rich and to leave. Among the films in this festival sample, it is a relatively optimistic film. Mehmet finds his gold vein at the end, and his fierce endeavour to change his life is crowned with victory. Film director Mustafa Kara was awarded with the Golden Tulip for Best Director, Haydar Sisman won Best Actor, Cevahir Sahin and Kursan Uresin shared the award for Best Cinematography, and Mustafa Kara and Umut Sakallioglu Ali Aga for Best Editing.
The other two films of the National Competition, Rauf (Special Jury Prize to directors Baris Kaya and Soner Caner) and Blue Bicycle (directed by Umit Koreken), are stories with child heroes. Paradoxically, children demonstrate independent and decisive action, even though their lives are difficult because of war and poverty.
The last film in this year’s sample of new Turkish films, Memories of the Wind (directed by Ozcan Alper), deals with the political context of World War II and memories of the tragedy of the Armenian minority.
© FIPRESCI 2016