The Chiaroscuro of Hemshin's Autumn

in 6th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Artsvi Bakhchinyan

The FIPRESCI award of the Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival 2009 went to young Turkish filmmaker Özcan Alper’s film, Autumn (Sonbahar).

His first film, Momi, presenting the environment of the director’s native culture – Islamized Armenians, the so-called Hemshin ethnic group – was rather promising. Those expectations were completely justified in Alper’s first feature film Autumn where we can enjoy a mature work of an experienced filmmaker. It strikes with psychological depth in presenting the hero’s state of mind to the audience with excellent camera work. The environment of the film is also skillfully portrayed. 

The hero of the film is Yusuf (actor Onur Saylak), who spent the best years of his life in jail “because he wanted socialism”. He returns to his native village on health ground after ten years of imprisonment in Istanbul. He is a lost person, a typical loser who does not live in the present. The world was a window for him in prison. It keeps being a window at home also, from where Yusuf can see the fall of the leaves, raven’s croak and rain. The audience understands that the same occurs also in Yusuf’s soul. The spiritual wound and physical state, the improper time and circumstances ruin him. The director does not make a hero of him, does not makes his appearance handsome. Yusuf is not even able for physical love. His meeting with Eka, a Georgian prostitute (actress Megi Kobaladze) does not mean much for him, yet the girl develops a spiritual change and returns to her homeland and family. Eka is also unhappy like Yusuf and the other characters of this autumn world. Their existence is a continuous expectation of a good life, which does not come. This idea was expressed also by a quotation from Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”.

Nothing special happens in the film, yet not in any single moment is the spectator’s interest diminished. With its natural, calm narration, static scenes and life’s true depiction, Autumn gives an impression of a documentary. Especially if we take into account that some of the actors are not professionals (first of all in regards to Yusuf’s mother who speaks Hemshin dialect). The impression of documentation is deepened by the use of archival footage from student revolts in Istanbul in 2000. 

While appreciating the artistic values of the film one should also mention the high professional and very aesthetic work of the cameraman (Feza Kaldiran) and the editor (Thomas Balkenhol). It seems the film does not have a single thoughtless shot. Slow, yet not extended shots of beautiful scenes are reminiscent of artistic photographs.  Nature is a personage. The colors of the village in green gradually become bright, but it is a sad brightness. Simultaneously with the deepening of autumn, the physical state and state of mind of the hero become worse. The life of the hero and the film finish by the coming of winter.

The film is dedicated “to the beautiful children of these impatient times who never stop chasing dreams”. Özcan Alper is one of the beautiful children of this generation of Turkish filmmakers, who chases his dreams on the screen and whose impressive new voice in Turkish cinema has been described as “Alperian”.

Edited by Steven Yates