Sense Of Time And Change In Istanbul

in 42nd Istanbul Film Festival

by Ekrem Buğra Büte

Istanbul Film Festival took place for the 42nd time in Istanbul. This traditional spring-time festival has been witnessing the transition of Turkey and Istanbul for more than 40 years. Since the country is on the edge of a sharp social and political change, the festival and its well known national competitions contain films that observe this context from different perspectives this year. While the collective feeling of change, hope and political consciousness clearly affects people, cinema continues to witness.

Ayşe Polat’s In the Blind Spot (Im Totel Winkel), film that both won Best Film and the FIPRESCI awards in the Istanbul Film Festival’s National Competition, observes a political and historical phenomenon from different points of views. Polat—who also captures the collective trauma and its personal traces in her previous films—looks closely at Turkey’s dark and destructive past in this episodic, multi-layered, and well structured film. In the beginning, we follow a German documentary crew that makes a film about an elderly Kurdish woman performing a ritual to keep the memory of her missing son alive. After they meet Melek, a 7-year-old Turkish girl who has an “imaginary friend”, as well as a lawyer who suspiciously disappears soon after, everything becomes a vortex for them, and also for us, the viewers.

In this strong and bold film, director Ayşe Polat tries to capture the harsh feeling of trauma in the most direct way possible. She uses genre elements, different media, and a complex way of storytelling for capturing the dark spots of the past and its ghosts. She creates a tense atmosphere and pushes the viewer to experience this dark collective trauma by creating recurrences, narrative missing spots, using formalist shots and reorienting the protagonist. This rewards the narrative and the audience by forming a collective trauma. In the Blind Spot is a film about the relationship between past and present, also the victim and guilt on different levels—but more importantly, naming the victim and its undeniable, unbearable compulsion.

In Turkey, people have had this unique sense of time for several years. When everything is changing so fast, witnessing the transition is so easy. Especially in a city like Istanbul. This creates a collective, concrete feeling of time. Belmin Söylemez, who won the Best Director award in the National Competition is well-known for her debut film Present Time (Şimdiki Zaman), which follows a young woman in the city more than 10 years ago. With her new film Mirror Mirror (Ayna Ayna), she follows three women in their completely different lives and finds some common points in them. By doing this, she makes them part of each other’s lives in surprising ways.

Ayna Ayna, like Söylemez’s previous film Present Time (Simdiki Zaman, 2012), discovers the relationship between a big city and its women. Söylemez has a really strong eye for the time and with her sensual camerawork and graceful production design, she transfers this unique, collective sense of time to a filmic presence. By choosing the most undramatic and low-key storytelling style, she captures the desires, hopes, and the struggle for existence of her characters in a slow burn route. Using the elements of theater, dreams, passion to act and being a part of something of their own, Ayna Ayna sets its core meaning on solidarity and existing in one another.

Speaking of change and time, another film in the National Competition section gave a lot of hope to people for new voices in Turkish cinema. Umut Subaşı, who has made several successful shorts in the past, was in the competition with his debut film, Almost Entirely A Slight Disaster (Sanki Her Şey Biraz Felaket). Subaşı’s film is a portrait of a generation and the common things those belonging to it share in daily life. From its title to absurdist, deadpan comedy, Subaşı captures the essence of a generation in Turkey. We follow four young characters, who live different lives but cannot find peace and a safe place. Although none of them suffers a major problem, they all share the similar feeling of unhappiness and despair—and yes, that slight feeling of disaster lurking in everything. Subaşı’s discovery about his generation and the way he captures it in a cold, nuanced style is exciting and promising, for sure.

Ekrem Buğra Büte
Edited by Savina Petkova