The Lead 80s

in 30th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Klaus Eder

In his first film Hidden Lives, set in the outskirts of Istanbul, Turkish director A. Haluk Ünal (born 1957) unfolds the love story between a young photographer and a prospective doctor. It’s a nice story, told in a simple way, with a few romantic scenes, and with good young actors. Nothing to get particularly excited about.

However, this love story is embedded in the country’s history, in events happening 30 years ago. It’s the early 1980s, the beginning of a military dictatorship. It’s also the period of a heavy conflict between Alevis and Sunnites, both are Islamic denominations. There’s not much need to go into details, for example the massacre of Alevis in the middle-Anatolian city of Corum in 1980 which plays a certain role for the film’s background and dramatugy. To understand the movie it is sufficient to know that hatreds, intolerance and violence dominated relations between both religions and made it impossible to live with or tolerate one another, whether in the same village or in the same house and neighborhood.

A Turkish public may remember the historical conflict and the attack on the small minority of Alevis; it may be that Hidden Lives (Sakli Hayatlar, 2010) is one of the first — if not the first — fiction film which shows this conflict, not mainly on a political level but in its consequences on private lives. By the way, the role and situation of the Alevi minority in eastern Anatolia has a certain importance also in the film The Son (Oguz, by Atilla Cengiz, 2010), one of the protagonists comes from a local Alevi family, and the imploring words uttered at the end, on the graves of two young men, aim at a reconciliation: that it is “our sons” who are buried in “our earth”.

In Hidden Lives, A. Haluk Ünal focuses on two aspects. He portrays the families of the two lovers. The girl’s mother (an Alevi) had escaped from the Corum massacre and forbids her daughter strictly and desperately to meet the young man she loves because he’s a Sunnite. It’s the understandable reaction of a victim who had suffered a lot. On the other hand, the boy’s father (a Sunnite) embodies and compresses all Sunnite intolerance and hatred towards the Alevis. His strict and desperate reaction on his son’s “forbidden” love is understandable as well: he’s imprisoned by his education, conviction and traditions. It’s to the film’s merit that it shows both the girl’s mother and the boy’s father not as clichés but as victims of the Turkish society of the 1980s.

Another aspect on which the film focuses shows the social and political and religious conflict as going on between the generations of the parents. The enemy are not the young ones; it’s the elder generation. The young ones, the two lovers, may understand this conflict, only it’s not their conflict.

Of course they cannot escape. The boy will be shot. The love story does not know a happy ending. Not in those leaden times.