Spooky Tales from the Bridal Chamber

in 25th Panorama of European Cinema

by Esin Kücüktepepinar

“Some stories are magical,” says the bride of Night of Silence (Lal Gece). “Once you’ve started, you need to tell them to the end.” Only it is not a fairy tale this time. In his superbly directed, quiet and intimate film, Reis Çelik tells the tragic story of an unusual wedding night in a small village in a remote part of Turkey. It’s an arranged marriage, still a common traditional practice. Imprisoned by family traditions, neither the bride (Dilan Aksüt) nor the groom (Ilyas Salman) were given a choice. Most of the film takes place in the bridal chamber, where the 60-something-year-old groom and his 14-year-old bride meet each other for the first time. As it is for the couple, it is impossible for the audience to leave the room.

For women all around the world

Since returning with a Crystal Bear from Berlin this year, the film’s journey at international film festivals has been remarkable, including the FIPRESCI prize at the 25th European Panaroma of Cinema in Athens. Reis Çelik underlines that child brides represent one of the most crucial problems in Turkey, but that it’s not exclusive to his country. “The issue of child brides is one that extends beyond borders. There is this same issue in western countries as well only in a different form. German men go to Thailand, the English go to Vietnam and so on. That’s why I dedicated my movie to women all around the world.”

Shahmaran, who sacrifices herself to save him

It is going to be a long night, and director Çelik delicately creates a spooky mood with notes of awkward silence and tension with a game of words. It is like a chess game, with no-one winning at the end. First amused by his bride’s childishness, the groom lets her tell a story. Only she does not want to end it, like Scheherazade, the protagonist from “1001 Nights” who tries to ward off the impending violence of her new husband. But the director explains his true inspiration with Shahmaran was an old Anatolian folktale. “She represents women in society, she symbolises women who have been forced to yield to male dominance. Shahmaran had to create her own kingdom in the underworld. But eventually she is forced to return to the world, back to society and ironically for the man she loves to sacrifice herself to save him. Therefore my film is mainly based on the male.”

There will be blood!

Hidden by a red veil, the bride waits for the groom with inner fears. Blood is referenced by the veil’s colour and is also to be the proof of the bride’s virginity. Blood must be shed soon. Çelik says: “It is medieval of course but still the groom has to prove his masculinity and her virginity to the people of the village by hanging the stained bedsheets out of the window in the morning. This is like a horror movie! It’s a huge pressure for both sides. That means you are not an individual or a couple alone in the room. It’s especially too much for a teenage girl, almost more than a child can take. But crying out loudly for this girl would be too simple. You could make a film about a ‘poor girl’ alone and make the audience cry. That’s too easy! You could blame this on religion, tradition or obligation, but you would be terribly mistaken. Because none of these factors are the sole cause. They all have a part in it. The groom’s hand trembles before it touches the veil. ‘There is not anything you have to be afraid of,’ he says, but he is also very afraid of what he is facing. I wanted to focus on whether he is capable or not of confronting his fears and conflicts.”

Men having more power

At the beginning of the movie the groom stands before a relative, who congratulates him on his marital bliss. ‘You had to endure a lot. May you be happy from now on.’ Recently released from prison after serving a sentence for two honour killings, he now is again trapped in traditions. “The only way out of this,” the director says, “is for the man to confront himself. If the man cannot confront himself, then everything is doomed. These marriages are usually arrangements to end the blood feud between two families. Women have no right to object. They have to obey! Otherwise they get killed by their own father or brothers. They are doomed. As her mother tells her, they were all brides like her. Regardless of if your husband beats you and abuses you, never go out that door, this is your home! And husbands follow this tradition without questioning. It is the patriarchy that rules. But again it is about men having more power. This imbalance of power is the core of patriarchy. There aren’t individuals here, there are victims of social judgments. How and where do you go from here? You will be not able to build a family or a belief in these conditions. I tried to reveal the roots and reasons.”

Patriarchy and hypocrisy in society

Always dedicated to questioning social issues, Turkish director Reis Çelik’s films have caused huge debate in his own country. In his first feature Isiklar Sönmesin (1996) he told the story of a Turkish soldier and a Kurdish guerrilla. Then he touched another taboo subject in Hosçakal Yarin (1998), the real-life story of young political activist Deniz Gezmis, who was sentenced to death and soon after executed by the state in the ‘70s. Inspired by the real-life story of a young person forced against his will to leave his homeland he made Refugee (Mülteci) in 2007. Always trying to see the bigger picture, he wants to question the hypocrisy of society in Night of Silence.

Confession of a man

“Masculine sexuality involves the oppression of women, and competition among men; patriarchy, the systematic domination of women by men. Patriarchy is men having more power, both personally and politically. More importantly, patriarchy also needs its values accepted in the minds of people. Therefore we cannot talk about individuals here. It is necessary to express the situation men go through. Men also suffer, but they have no awareness and are afraid of losing the power they have. I wanted to tell an intimate story and tried to empathize with both sides. This film is all about the confession of a man from me, both as a director and a man.” 

Edited by Carmen Gray