Honor Killings By André Waardenburg

in 27th Istanbul International Film Festival

by André Waardenburg

Will the jury award politics or more ‘innocent’ films? On the eve of the award ceremony of the 27th Istanbul Film Festival, this question was surely lingering in some people’s minds. The president of the international jury was Michael Ballhaus, the renowned German cameraman who, among others, worked with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Martin Scorsese. The films of the competition were shown in the most prestigious cinema in Istanbul, the Emek theatre. It is located in a side street of the hippest area of this cosmopolitan city, along the Istiklal Caddesi. Especially at night, this street is so busy it seems a frightful endeavor to walk through it. Think of Oxford Street (in London) but then times two. The evening is a time to stroll around for the locals — to look and be looked at. In the side and parallel streets there is plentiful food, and the raki — the national drink of Turkey — flows abundantly.

The festival has two competitions that both last a week: a national and international, with both having a separate jury. Two Turkish films were selected among the twelve titles in the international competition, of which one also took part in the national one: Gitmek: My Marlon and Brando (by Huseyin Karabay). The national jury had to choose from eleven recent Turkish films.

What was striking about the Turkish competition were two films about honor killings. One was inspired by some incidents a few years ago, when a wave of suicides (of Kurdish girls) plagued the nation. Further investigation revealed that those deaths weren’t suicides at all, but instances of honor killings disguised as suicides or accidents. Women who had stained the honor of the family (and the tribe) were forced to commit suicide. This way the perpetrators avoid a prison sentence, because the punishment for this type of crime has recently been increased in Turkey. Although this might not change the attitude of the people who commit those crimes — they are stuck in an old tribal system in which the honor of the family is crucial and all-encompassing. Another solution to limit the length of the prison sentence is to let a youthful family member commit the murder — because then he will be sentenced as a juvenile delinquent and will be jailed for just a few years.

In Havar (by Mehmet Guleryuz) a supposed case of violation of family honor leads to suicide/murder, which makes the whole thing even more tragic. Heroine Havar is suspected of having been flirting with a man that wasn’t approved of by the family. No matter what she tries, she can’t prove her innocence in the whole matter. Her uncle is especially decided. The family has to be avenged.

In Hidden Faces (Sakli yüzler, by Handan Ipekci) a woman, who dishonored her family by bearing the child of her lover, manages to get away and live her life somewhere else. Until the past catches up with her. Flashbacks show the back-story: after already having strangled her newborn baby, the juvenile brother of the woman is ordered to kill her too. But his sisterly love and remorse over murdering the baby are stronger than his desire to right the wrongs she did to her family honor. He helps her escape. Or so it seems. But her uncle is so obsessed by his ‘duty’ to revenge the honor of the family that he leaves no stone unturned in order to find her.

Although both films deal with this loaded topic in a slightly didactic manner, it is Havar that has the upper hand. The narrative and editing of Hidden Faces is a bit too constructed and fragmented for its own good. The stylistic simplicity and the fact that Havar is actually shot in the area were honor killings are still common — the Southeast of Turkey — make it a more convincing film.

But politics were not on the agenda of the national jury, and that is actually not a bad sign. The stylistically far more rewarding Turkish film Summer Book won; a film without even a hint of didacticism. The same was true for the international competition, where the Turkish film Egg (Yumurta, by Semih Kaplamoglu) triumphed over the eleven non-Turkish films from the competition. It made the nation proud. And deservedly so.