The 32nd Istanbul Film Festival in Full Swing

in 32nd Istanbul Film Festival

by Guilhem Caillard

Sponsored by the IKVS (Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts), which has been working hard since 1973 to promote culture and art, the Istanbul Film Festival celebrated its 32nd birthday this year. A few weeks before Cannes, this major event in in Turkey played its cards right with a rich program, which didn’t always focus on world premieres. However, a great number of Turkish films were presented for the first time. The national competition, overseen by several juries, consisted of ten full-length feature films. Out of competition, no fewer than 31 Turkish titles screened in Beyoglu, not to mention the number of Turkish classics that were revisited (My Prostitute Love by Lüfti Ö. Akad, 1968, as well as a focus on Metin Erksan, considered one of the most influential Turkish filmmakers).

Onur Ünlü, a filmmaker known primarily for his television series (Subat, Acemi müezzin), presented his latest film, Thou Gild’st The Even. This ode to cinema and its visual liberties, which reminded us of Méliès’ phantasmagoria, was the most original title in the Turkish selection. The director uses his beloved themes of absurdity and burlesque, and gives the impression of having enjoyed creative freedom for the first time. We follow the peregrinations of Cemal (the great Ali Atay) and the beautiful Yasemin (Demet Evgar), the object of his affections. Their small village in Anatolia is a witness to their first love story. As time passes, people grow older and change, along with social norms and family traditions. The couple lives on the fringe, and Cemal tends to get overwhelmed with anxiety. He can fly, break through walls, die and be reborn within a few hours. With an acute imagination and a risky but courageous script, Thou Gild’st The Even playfully takes the audience by surprise.

Nobody’s Home, the first feature by Deniz A. Katiksiz, is also an essential Turkish production. The film goes deep into an Istanbul family’s day-to-day life; ever since his father’s death, young Iker has been going through an unstable time, leaving his mother and sisters to their own devices. The teenager, who is just discovering his sexuality, has trouble identifying with those close to him. With great vitality and energy, the filmmaker observes the insecurities, worries and obstacles of each of the members of this broken family. If Nobody’s Home sometimes seems to go in too many directions at once, it remains an ambitious and promising first work which can be compared with the excellent Lifelong, Asli Özge’s bourgeois drama. In the style of Antonioni, Özge’s clean-cut movie introduces actress Defne Halman to the general audience: her performance as a fifty-year-old suffering her husband’s infidelity merits distinction. The Turkish actress Sema Poyraz also leaves us with a strong impression in Forgive Me (Cemil Agacikoglu, 2013), where she plays the mother of a mentally deficient forty-year-old. Tired and distressed, her character is interpreted with restraint and care.

In the Lifetime Achievement category, we must mention the presence of Peter Weir, Costa-Gavras and Carlos Reygadas. The great “Reality is a Miracle” retrospective, among the most successful events, featured the entire Reygadas repertoire (including Post Tenebras Lux and Japón), as well as several discussions with the Mexican filmmaker. The festival’s international competition also gave the Turkish audience the latest Laurent Cantet film, Foxfire, as well as Camille Claudel 1915 by Bruno Dumont featuring Juliette Binoche, and the intriguing It’s All So Quiet by the Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold, about the loneliness and sexual repression of a gay man in his fifties, which played at Berlin this year. The extraordinary Antidepressant and Stories of Women categories offered us the chance to discover Queen of Montreuil (Sólveig Anspach, 2012) and Of Snails and Men (a Romanian comedy by Tudor Giurgiu, a great success this year in Romania).

225 national and international guests were present during the 15-day festival. The famous Meetings on the Bridge sessions presented twenty Turkish projects, currently in production or in the final stages of production. During this year’s panels, topics of discussion included the state of Polish/Turkish co-productions, as well as new methods of VoD distribution (with Pierre-Alexandre Labelle, co-founder of Under the Milky Way, a VoD company).

Finally, on Sunday April 7, the festival was the scene of a demonstration by cinephiles and several guests protesting the demolition of the historical movie theatre Emek, planned by the municipality of Istanbul. Film critic Berke Göl, member of the FIPRESCI jury at the festival, was taken into custody by the police for several hours. This event was widely reported by media, because of the police violence as well as Costa-Gavras’ support as a petitioner for the preservation of Emek. As of now, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister has not responded.

Edited by Lesley Chow