Rauf: Let’s All Think Pink

in 20th Sofia International Film Festival

by Gideon Kouts

Let’s start with what one may call a mistake or misplacement. The programmers of the last Berlinale placed “Rauf”, the winner of FIPRESCI’s Jury Award at the 20th Sofia International Film Festival, in the Generation K-plus section, along with this official presentation:

“I wanted to see what kind of colour pink is. If I find pink, Zana will fall in love with me.”

First love is often painful. Still, that’s not going to stop Rauf from showing Zana how much he fancies her. Alas, the eleven-year-old’s advances only elicit amused smiles from the young woman. Fortunately, Rauf has a couple of loyal friends at his side that he can count on for advice and perspective. Undeterred by the tragic consequences of war, or the fact that he’s already dropped out of school to apprentice as a carpenter, the boy holds on to his one hope: Rauf sets off on a quest to find the special colour that symbolizes his love. This turns out to be no trivial undertaking in his snowy little isolated corner of Anatolia. When he finally happens upon the object of his quest, as winter snow gives way to the early flowers of spring, Rauf isn’t a little boy anymore…

Well, it’s one way to look at this movie within the framework of the chosen section: a nice, albeit melancholic children’ movie, all about love and growing up …  But there is at least one other reading, social and political, since the film shows the Turkish-Kurdish conflict from a child’s perspective.

Nine-year-old Rauf (Alen Huseyin Gursoy) wants to leave the village school, where Turkish nationalist propaganda is part of his daily lessons. He would like to be a shepherd, but instead his father sends him to be the apprentice of Ahmet Usta (Yavuz Gurbuz), a carpenter whose work now largely consists of making coffins for the local young men, returning in body bags from the war, which we physically encounter only at the beginning of the movie, along with Rauf hearing and watching the rockets light up the sky. But the war is constantly felt in the villages, voided of their young men, and is epitomized by the elderly woman, seated at the edge of the mountain and staring into the horizon for her son to return from battle. War affects Rauf’s life quite immediately in the form of numerous orders for coffins – which he soon becomes a master of making – placed by the desperate parents of sons, killed in battle.

Directors Kaya and Caner want us to experience the ramifications of war impressionistically, through the sensitivity of the child Rauf. Which also allows the international viewer, unaware of the political context of the film, to better grasp the harsh reality as Rauf does: initially as something everyone talks about, and could therefore easily ignore, until it hits very close to home and becomes a bitter fact of life…

The story of Rauf’s unrequited first love becomes a way of enhancing the impressionistic style of the film, taking the audience on a journey, which parallels Rauf’s loss of innocence.

He falls in love with his master’s 20-year-old daughter Zana (Seyda Sozurer), who sympathizes with the rebels, catering to their messages and requests. One day she asks Rauf to pick up a pink floral fabric for her from town. But Rauf had never seen pink before, and the absence of this colour in this war torn zone becomes more and more conspicuous as Rauf tries to find it and fails again and again. His hunt for pink, the colour of pleasure and frivolity, becomes a symbol not only of his love for Zana, but also of his quest for peace and normalcy. And the tragic circumstances in which Rauf finally discovers the pink flowers, and especially their final use, take the audiences through their cathartic experience of pity, fear, and hope. Unfortunately, the rather exaggerated musical outburst at this point is the only oversight of this otherwise meticulously executed film both professionally and aesthetically. The film, based on a well-written story and script, features naturalistic acting, executed by both professionals and debuting actors; inspired Vedat Ozdemir’s lensing, which makes a beautiful use of the expansive dramatic landscape, and frames in natural light significant details like houses, rooms, doors and windows.

The Turkish name of Baris Kaya and the Kurdish one of Soner Caner, are to be remembered, and their second film is to be expected with great curiosity.

The sad belligerent news that came from Turkey on the day of the Awards Ceremony threw in high relief the immediate relevance of “Rauf”, and our jury concluded the FIPRESCI award reasoning with the enthusiastically applauded appeal: Let’s all think pink!

Rauf, Turkey, 2016, 94 min. Directors: Soner Caner, Baris Kaya. Contact: Peri Istanbul, www.periistanbul.com

Edited by Christina Stojanova