Latest Trends and Women’s Objectification

in 39th International Istanbul Film Festival: National Competition

by Aylin Sayin

A prominent Turkish director who has been making films since 1999, recently wrote the following words on the social media:

“In the film The Usual Suspects (1995), Kaiser Soze, who was forced to surrender by taking his wife and children hostage, started the conflict by shooting his wife and children. It is the most wonderful character and determination that I have ever seen in life and art.” (Zeki Demirkubuz, Twitter, June 2020)

These words are not written unintentionally; they represent the dominant male perspective either in cinema or the in the Turkish political scene and daily life. According to the statistics, 42 % of women in Turkey suffer some physical or sexual violence by their relatives, husbands, or male partners. Even though women organizations protest this violence, it increases proportionally and in accordance with the public statements of the right-wing politicians.

When this is the case, it should not surprise anyone to see the representations of women’s objectification and the male dominant tongue in the recent Turkish cinema. As for our topic, the male directors in the national selection of the 39th International Istanbul Film Festival outnumbered the female ones, and mostly presented a patriarchal view. For example, Silenced Tree (Ceviz Agaci, 2020) by Faysal Soysal put the story of an idealized man in its center, preventing the audience from seeing/questioning the murder of his ex-wife by an unknown murder. The film also captivates the subconscious of the audiences with the message that “a bad woman would face a bad end”.

In addition, on the day this film was screened, a murderous incident took place that aroused women’s organizations[1]: A young woman named Pınar Gültekin was found dead (killed by her ex-lover). The film contributed to the patriarchal discourses of the right-wing politicians who are blaming the young woman instead of the femicides. We can also associate this film, which received financial support from the Ministry of Culture, with the desire of the conservative community to exist in the intellectual field, as its discourse is in harmony with conservative discourse.

Similarly, Going Blind (Korlesme, 2020) by Haci Orman is a film about a visually-impaired poet. His wife convinces him to undergo an eye operation. But things do not go well and his wife becomes a scapegoat. The movie chooses to not emphasize the socioeconomic conditions of being blind and the limited possibilities for the blind in a disabled unfriendly city like İstanbul, but blames the woman.

Another example is Adventures of Sukran the Lame (Topal Sükran’in Maceraları, 2019) by Onur Ünlü, in which the protagonist is a woman, but the film is without dialogues. In this sense, it tries a different form but the story is portrayed conventionally and the protagonist is depicted as a “femme fatale”. Another movie, The Poet (Şair, 2020) by Mehmet Emin Yildirim makes men the main characters and worships them, as in the most films of the selection.

Only two films in the selection tried to break the man dominated cinema. We must say that breaking the hegemonic tongue brought them a powerful cinematic expression as well. Love, Spells and All That (Ask, Buyu, vs., 2019) by Umit Unal is the story of two women who have a love affair. Like the other film, Not Knowing (Bilmemek, 2019) by Leyla Yilmaz, it has an open-ended structure to multiply the questions and different opinion. Another common point of these two films is that they bring non-heterosexual lives (Not Knowing refuses to name it as it is very personal) to the screen.

Let us come to the FIPRESCI award film, You Know Him (Nasipse Adayiz, 2020) by Ercan Kesal. Although it is a movie where male actors are lead by a male director, it can be appreciated for satirizing the mainstream political scene in which this patriarchal point of view was produced. Also, unlike the films we mentioned above as reproducing the male-dominated tongue, the film deals with its protagonist’s weaknesses and his defects, like the French poet Charles Baudlaire who threw the poet’s aura in a mud. More than that, this debut movie portrays the mainstream political scene effectively. It deals with how fragile the power is and how much of it depends on traditional, religious networks and economic capital. The film depicts this critical issue through the eyes of the protagonist (it is consistent in this way) and points out the class inequalities with a powerful cinematic expression.

As a result, in the times where we face a struggle between a conservative dominated political power and a progressive opposition in Turkey, seeing movies at both sides of this confrontation and witnessing the appreciation of the latter by the critics was a great experience for film lovers.

[1] Women rose under the leadership of women organizations and protested femicides in the streets and on social media. The ruling party’s (AKP) latest action is to withdraw from the “Istanbul Convention” which aims to prevent violence against women. Women demand “Istanbul Convention” to be sure no reduction and amnesty in the punishments of perpetrators of violence against women.

Aylin Sayin Gonenc
Edited by Yael Shuv