Reflections on the National Competition Violence – A Central Theme By Marina Drozdova

in 26th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Marina Drozdova

The national competition has undoubtedly shown the Turkish cinema’s potential as well as the high level of ambitions associated with its national history and artists’ perceptions. The program had three clear leaders: Climates [Iklimler] by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Takva – A Man’s Fear of God [Takva] by Ozer Kiziltan, and Destiny [Kader] by Zeki Demirkubuz. These films conveyed a breath of fresh air with their screenplays focused on deep problems of human life. Climates and Takva had already been recognized by FIPRESCI prizes, and now Destiny too was destined to receive this prize.

The film narrates a story of individuals driven by passion — a story that may seem unoriginal at first sight. A youth abandons his stable existence sheltered by family and work, for the sake of pursuing a young lady he barely knows. She, in turn, follows her beloved, who is condemned to life imprisonment for unpremeditated murder — with annoying repetition, the convict is transferred from jail to jail. What in the beginning seems to be simply a story of passion, as the film develops, turns out to be a metaphor for human relationship, the very concept of striving to achieve some sacred ideal. The film’s documentary implementation underscores its philosophical approach.

Another film, Barda by Serdar Akar, represents a similar attempt to contrast philosophical searching against commonplace reality. This attempt, however, mostly fails. A company of friends (well-to-do and well-educated types) falls victim to a company of bandits who put on a hellish show. Barda pursues a genre of films which explore the nature of “mindless violence”. Unfortunately, this exploration hardly extends beyond familiar clichés.

Violence was a central theme of the national competition program. This theme extends from domestic, social, religious and political violence to a sort of “existential” violence some individuals might experience in their attempt to deal with reality and overcome its pressure by creating one’s own “personal” reality. The program overall is quite successful in developing this theme of violence through various dramatic forms and genres represented by its films, even though some of the films fall short on creative achievement.

Another obvious characteristic of the program is its orientation toward making an emotional impact upon the audience. From this perspective, the festival’s overture reel, which preceded each of the feature films, represented a real artistic achievement. This cinematographic essay skillfully combined the spirit of Woody Allen and Godard. Its personages were simply the audience: people waiting for their film, chatting, telling each other stories, flirting and discussing something. The smallest nuances of their behavior are filmed and portrayed with amazing precision. And when titles “best actress” or “best director” suddenly appear on the screen, we clearly perceive how some audience member’s white lie turns into an intrigue — in essence making this person a director as he orchestrates the unfolding events. Alternatively, another person’s silly old-fashioned hat suddenly turns out to be not simply a random accessory, but a precise clue to one’s inner character — suggesting that we are in fact facing a costume artist. And so on and so forth. The reel is executed with much respect for the audience as well as the cinema professionals — creating in effect a valuable unifying core. Sadly, the reel did not qualify for a festival prize. As for those that did qualify, the following films enjoyed particular success with the audience: The International [Beynelmilel] by Sirri Sureyya Onder and Muharrem Gulmez, Waiting for Heaven [Cenneti Beklerken] by Dervis Zaim, Adam & The Devil [Adem’in Trenleri] by Baris Pirhasan and The Magician [Hokkabaz] by Cem Yilmaz and Ali Taner Baltaci.

The Little Apocalypse (Kücük Kiyamet) by Yagmur Taylan and Durul Taylan represented a particular success in its own genre, a thriller. In this film, a family attempts to escape a vacation house rented over the Internet. The house has a view upon a cemetery where, as the story unfolds, one begins to see open graves with the family members’ names. The horror film enthusiast would recognize familiar attributes. Nonetheless, the main character’s (the mother’s) psychological story is quite inventive. Adventures in the horror wonderland turn out to be the heroine’s visions, while she is trapped under the rubble of a house destroyed by an earthquake. Her consciousness attempts to clasp at the familiar and “typical” horror visions so that their familiarity helps her regain everyday reality. A curious paradox. Having returned to reality, she must then save her children who are also trapped alive under the rubble.

The film Adam & The Devil represented another creative success. It tells a story of a fairy-tale village populated by people with ‘open’ hearts who, through their honesty to each other, strive to overcome all their difficulties. We see a story about a strict imam who, having once married a fallen woman, for many years fears to convey to her his inner feelings. Another story is about a boy, who wants to uncover all the world’s mysteries. Yet other stories are about the villagers who believe in spreading rumors, not just as a form of entertainment, but information that will help save their loved ones in times of trouble. The film retains its naïve approach and style throughout. Such naïve art has always had its niche — as demonstrated by the audience ovations.