"My Only Sunshine": The Talent We've Been Waiting For By Giorgio Gosetti

in 28th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Giorgio Gosetti

Though the very high quality of the films from prominent directors presented in the national competition of the 28th International Istanbul Film Festival made the choice a very difficult one, it ultimately came quite naturally to honor Reha Erdem’s very special talent. What made My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var) stand out was the precision with which it conveys the values of a larger movement of filmmakers belonging to the strange condition of a country making a thrilling passage from Asian tradition to European sensibility.

My Only Sunshine is a perfect example of this movement, more evident perhaps to the international filmgoers than the Turkish critics who are familiar with the different perspectives of any single filmmaker.

Long anticipated after his astonishing Times and Winds (Bes Vakit, 2006), the new film by Reha Erdem was first announced in the well-informed gossips in Cannes, then Locarno, Venice, San Sebastian and Rome, but only at the 2009 Berlin Festival (Forum) did My Only Sunshine screen officially in advance of its Istanbul premiere. Most likely, the long time taken by the director to achieve his final cut can be explained by his natural inclination to transform every sequence into a masterpiece.

The story deals with the troubles endured by the fourteen-year-old Hayat, who lives with her father and grandfather in today’s dangerous Bosporus. Her father owns a little fishing boat, using it for illegal traffic. Young Hayat’s life is tough and merciless, but she resists falling into despair — even when she is raped, even when life shows her how indifferent and cruel it can be. This courage and hope, held against all odds, will lead Hayat to a sort of martyrdom — the dramatic and natural issue in this contemporary society, full of sound and fury — which she confronts without losing her faith in love, or people, or the future.

Once again, the central character of Erdem’s movie is a teenager, but this perspective is quite different from Times and Winds: the setting is urban rather than rural, the violence is rooted in modern concerns rather than brutal tradition, and though all rules and values are lost, it’s still possible for a girl’s smile to change the course of destiny.

Reha Erdem confirms himself beyond any doubt as a very modern talent, defining his cinematic sensibility; any single movement of his camera reveals a precise intention and narrative strategy. Moreover, the filmmaker imposes a perfect harmony to any single image, its colors are bright and his framing is often breathtakingly beautiful. We might fault him for a sort of self-indulgence, a complacency in his own skills. Some sluggish sequences — conceived more to show off his artistic talent than to move the story forward — speak to Reha’s obvious sense of his own intelligence. In the end, we feel touched by the epic drama of Hayat’s life, but slightly distant from the possible goal clearly foretold by the plot.

It’s a pity, because in any case the film is quite well accomplished; it’s impossible to deny how fresh and strong it feels in the wonderful overview of contemporary Turkish cinema. We gave him our prize to encourage a larger movement which deeply needs personalities like Erdem — artists brave enough to face difficult subjects, and to impose their very personal style upon them.