The National Competition of the 40th Istanbul Film Festival was an extraordinary opportunity to get deeper insights into many of the challenges facing not only Turkish cinema but also the country. The 13 feature films made in Turkey during the last two years gave us a panorama of Turkish society. In this text, I chose to focus on a single aspect in these heterogeneous films: how they make us understand the structural clash of perspectives in Turkish cinema and a society, which is torn between traditional and modern values.
Many of the films expressed this conflict within the family. It’s All About Peace and Harmony (Dirlik Düzenlik, 2020) directed by Nesimi Yetik deals with three women who live together: two sisters and their old mother. But it is not a tender film: there is love but also hate between these women. They openly discuss their opposing views, in a harsh and verbally aggressive way. In Cagil Bocut’s Geranium (Sardunya, 2020), a young daughter leaves Istanbul to visit her sick father. She seems to be an independent modern woman but she is not able to deal with her father´s universe, which leads to a tragic result.
Fractured (Çatlak, 2021) by Fikret Reyhan is a rough but fascinating experience in which the director puts viewers in the middle of a family´s turmoil due to a debt. This film deals not only with the conflicts of this family but, in quite an original way, exposes some of the contradictions of Turkish contemporary society – the patriarchal family structured around the leading figure of the father, the struggle of women pushed into a subordinate role, the need to work in impoverished conditions and the expansion of the top floor of the house.
One of the gems of the competition was The Dance of Ali and Zin (Zîn ve Ali’nin Hikâyesi, 2021) by Mehmet Ali Konar. Set in a Kurdish village, the film beautifully stages the mourning process of a family that lost a son. The tradition of the Kurdish culture is evoked in long silent takes, and the respectful relationship between the family members is quite the opposite of the fierce discussions among the families of the previous films.
Cinema itself was also a theme in some of the films. Emre Erdoğdu’s The List of Those Who Love Me (Beni Sevenler Listesi, 2021) talks about the loneliness of a celebrities´ drug dealer. In Baris Hanciogullari’s Leyla Once Again (Yeniden Leyla, 2021) we realize that its first part is in fact a film within a film, and the second one is about the actors who played the characters. And in Baris Sarhan’s The Cemil show (Cemil Şov, 2021), a naive security guard wants to be an actor and the film pays a homage to Yeşilçam (Turkish film industry in the 1950-1970´s). But the film chooses a nostalgic approach which encloses its character withing a past film, and avoids dealing with the real world outside the film.
Thus, these films offer a great opportunity to get acquainted with some hidden and subtle aspects of Turkish contemporary society: the desire to move and the willingness to stay. These conflicts were expressed in many ways, suggesting many layers of the challenges of cinema and society in recent years.
Edited by Yael Shuv
© FIPRESCI 2021