The Raw Poetry of a City By João Antunes

in 26th Istanbul International Film Festival

by Joao Antunes

Sketch movies, such as those directed by different filmmakers, rarely succeed. The personality of each one of the auteurs often take over the project and the viewer tends usually to remember this or that segment, losing the entire shape of the movie. The major achievement of Istanbul Tales/Anlat Istambul is precisely the fact that we never remember, during or after the screening, that five different directors are involved and, considering however the difference in tone of the different tales (or is it only one, after all?), we understand that behind them all we can find the pulsation of a city, with its drama, funny stories, happy or sad endings.

We can’t say, honestly, that Istanbul Tales is a new type of movie. Its conceptual dramaturgy and structure couldn’t be possible, and considering only the recent past, without the likes of Pulp Fiction or Amores Perros , and its American companion, 21 Grams (there’s even a character who goes out of the scene when he is brutally run over by a car). Istanbul Tales portrays the genuine breath of a city, the honesty and the poetry, the passion and love for the characters, the conscience – and practice – of the magic of the movies.

The movies to which I made reference, had auteurs behind them with the strong personality of Quentin Tarantino or Alejandro González Iñárritu. In Istanbul Tales , the credits includes the names of Umit Unal, Kudret Sabanci, Selim Demirdelen, Yucel Yolcu and Omur Atay. It’s true that Umit Unal is the only author of the original screenplay, but the way he gave his stories to the other companions on the adventure to direct shows an open-minded spirit, which finally impregnate the whole project. And being true that cinema is the most collective of all the arts, what would Istanbul Tales be without its ingenious editing work, crude but marvellous cinematography and the wonderful job of the entire cast that transforms it into such an organic experience?

Unlike many movies about cities – Istanbul Tales does not only give you a catalogue of “real” lives. The tales of the title are somehow real fairy tales (there are fairy godmothers and godfathers), crossed with people from daily life, those who could be our neighbours, if we lived in Istanbul, contemporary versions of Sleeping Beauty , Cinderella and Snow White .

To actually see Istanbul Tales in Istanbul is a privilege, a really extraordinary possibility, a different and fruitful experience. It’s like the moments spent in the city were a long trailer and after leaving the theatre we immediately see the sequel. Some of the characters even seem familiar, others we can be sure to see in some corner of the city.

Perhaps the movie will not entice anybody to Istanbul who haven’t been. But isn’t its darkness the same in so many other places we know or live in? Istanbul, with the millions and millions of people living there, could not escape. The movie does not hide it, but also doesn’t just want to explore it. That’s not it’s agenda .

But knowing the city, we can discover, even if in a subliminal way, its charm, the 24-hour a day way of life. Now, we want to stay. And Istanbul Tales is as far as possible from a tourist postcard kind of a movie. That’s only possible with the passion of the filmmakers for their city and its people.

Five directors behind the camera, five stories that intercross. Maybe without mathematical or dramaturgical exactitude. But life is chaotic, and the movie shows it well. Some stories don’t really finish well, others don’t finish at all. We know where some characters are going, and others we lose on the way. That’s also life.