A Panaroma of Turkish Art-house Cinema

in 21st European Movie Festival, Lecce

by Aylin Sayın Gönenç

Discussions on the art of cinema in Turkey arose at the beginning of 1950s, but the institutionalization of this cinema took place after 1980. While examples of art cinema were produced thanks to the financing of private initiatives in the eighties, the institutions of art cinema rose up in the late nineties. From that time on, festival award opportunities and other financial supports (Ministry of Culture, Euroimage, etc.) increased, thus art cinema was founded as a field. In this period, festivals, and other elements (like critics, audiences) arrived to evaluate the films. Moreover, directors made their way and separated themselves from popular and commercial cinema.

Following the footsteps of the first directors of art cinema (Yeşim Ustaoğlu, Derviş Zaim, Zeki Demirkubuz, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Reha Erdem), Kıvanç Sezer, who is in the third generation, is affected by the filmmaking style of his predecessors (both in terms of aesthetics and production conditions). He has just made his second movie but he is one of the important representatives of his generation. As with most of the other directors of the second and third generation (such as Özcan Alper, Kazım Öz, Sedat Yılmaz, Orhan Eskiköy, Emre Yeksan, …), he takes his stories and matters directly from political, economic, and social issues; he approaches cinema as means of awareness.

Since the art cinema began to be established in the late 1990s, it has had two common tendencies: the motionless cinema aesthetics pioneered by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the “lumpen” male narrative aesthetics of Zeki Demirkubuz. Some directors of the 2nd and 3rd generation are not confined to these two tendencies, rather finding a different way where they study new expressions of cinema.

Kıvanç Sezer’s first film My Father’s Wings (Babamın Kanatları, 2016) deals with the construction industry (in recent years, Turkey’s economic motor), and tells a story about the construction workers and their difficult living conditions. The film has a documentary-like realness.

Sezer’s second movie, La Belle Indifference (Küçük Şeyler, 2019), which won the Fipresci award at Festival Del Cinema Europeo, is about people who get into debt to live in these buildings built by the workers mentioned above. The film discusses the economic insecurity experienced by the white-collar workers (or, we can say, the new middle class).[1]

La Belle Indifference is a realistic snapshot of a marriage between the kindergarten teacher Bahar and her husband Onur, who works as a regional manager of a pharmaceutical company. The marriage of the couple and their loan payments for the flat are interrupted by Onur’s dismissal. The film depicts middle-class people who borrow and spend more than they earn. In this sense, the film teases corporate relations, working conditions, and white-collar lives and lifestyles which depend on “organic life”, “healthy eating”, or “where to go on a vacation”, which are the main subjects of their conversation with friends.

The movie has seven Brechtian episodes.  Common narrative patterns are broken in favor of the development of the characters through this episodic narrative. Thus, the film reflects the seasonal transitions of the marriage and allows us to see the relationships of the characters in a more connected way.

Onur, the protagonist, has fantasies from the side-effects of the pills he takes.  He refuses to see the reality and handles it (as the reality is a heavy burden to carry) in an opposite way from his wife’s response. Bahar can handle the reality of the life itself because working in a school is very realistic and grounded. However, as a marketing expert, the ground on which Onur stands is not firm at all, and the title of the movie refers to a psychological disease which is defined by lack of concern shown by some patients like Onur. Thus, the film criticizes new middle-class lifestyle habits which are in contradiction with their financial breakdown in the neo-liberal era.

[1] With the change in the mode of production created by the neo-liberal policies after the 1980s, job opportunities in big cities have shifted towards the service sector, banking, finance, tourism, marketing, public relations, etc. The changing political-economic-cultural environment has created new class identities:  While the traditional middle class has regressed in economic and cultural terms, the increase of multinational companies, banks and private sector employees (white-collar office workers), the diversification of the social division of labor has created a new middle class that we can generalize with its professional-educated-urban characteristics. In short, the children of the traditional middle classes have turned into the new middle class through the education they received.

Aylin Sayın Gönenç
Edited by Robert Horton