Eternal Themes of Exile in "Waiting for the Clouds" and "A Little Bit of Freedom"

in 23rd Istanbul International Film Festival

by Annika Gustafsson

A life in exile and the resulting problems of identity are examined in two vastly different films, Yesim Ustaoglu’s “Waiting for the Clouds” (Bulutlari beklerken) and the German-Turkish coproduction “A Little Bit of Freedom” (Kleine Freiheit) directed by Yüksel Yavuz. Both films took part in competition in the national section at the 23rd International Film Festival in Istanbul and stayed in the FIPRESCI jury’s discussions up until and during its final deliberations.

Ustaoglu’s second feature “Journey to the Sun”, 1999, brought her an international breakthrough and recognition. Her new film, with a script partly developed during a Sundance festival workshop, deals with a historical trauma going back to the antagonistic Turkish-Greek relations in 1916, when Greek families had to be evacuated from Turkey.

The film opens with grayish-brown documentary sequences from the evacuation, immediately striking an intense note of desperation and tragedy.

The little girl Eleni flees with her parents and her small brother through bitter cold and snow along the Black Sea coast. The parents die, and after a Turkish family takes care of her, she grows up as Ayse. Her brother Nico ends up in a children’s home and is eventually brought to Greece, while Eleni leads a life in secrecy with her double identities.

She undergoes a grave crisis when her elder sister dies and the psychological repression mechanisms begins to crack. Gradually, the Greek language returns to her, and she finally learns that Nico lives in Thessaloniki. Elini travels there, only to discover that she remains a stranger.

Ustaoglu handles this strong drama in a visually taut, restrained style. The maturity of the director’s treatment comes across in the seamless fusion of content and form into a powerful personal statement, showing obvious affinities with Theo Angelopoulos’s films and, surprisingly enough, even with Michelangelo Antonioni and his trilogy about modern urban alienation, “L’Avventura”, “La Notte” and “L’Eclisse”.

Despite not being awarded by FIPRESCI, “Waiting for the Clouds” will hopefully reach an international audience, not only on the festival circuit, but also through normal exposure in theaters.

The same goes for “A Little Bit of Freedom”. Here the story takes place in the St. Paul area in Hamburg, since 20 years an environment very familiar to the director, attracting illegal immigrants from the Balkan countries as well as North Africa and Turkey. The main character is teenage Baran, a delivery boy and all-purpose helper in a Turkish restaurant. Baran is waiting for a decision regarding a residence permit, while his new friend, Chenor from Africa, can’t produce any papers at all when the two of them are stopped and questioned by the police.

This drama is complicated by the fact that Baran hails from a Kurdish family. His parents were killed by a political traitor unexpectedly showing up in Hamburg one day.

Whereas Ustaoglu has chosen a calm narrative tempo characterized by well-composed, lucid long shots favoring reflection from a distance on the part of the spectator, Yavuz, with a style in the social-realistic mode, belongs to a category of directors influenced by documentary cinema, such as Ken Loach, for instance. A fast-moving, nervous camera accentuates a predominant climate of insecurity. As with Loach, there is nothing pretentious or superfluous in the treatment of the material. The drama unfolds organically; different destinies are woven into the story in a natural way and mirror a reality of urgent interest against a complex political background.