Three Turkish Films: Far from home? By Esin Kücüktepepinar

in 31st Toronto International Film Festival

by Esin Kücüktepepinar

What do the three new Turkish movies screened in Toronto this year have in common? One might not call this a “Turkish new wave” just yet, but a new approach of filmmaking has arisen in recent years. All three are brand new movies, which haven’t yet been released in Turkey theatrically, and they certainly demand more attention than other local productions, while they get appreciation and awards in international festivals both inland and abroad. Perhaps the main concern should not be how much wider an audience these films will reach, but whether they contribute to a new energy in Turkish filmmaking? The answer to that is certainly yes; the important question of how widely they will be seen still remains.

A couple in crisis, children in rural Turkey seeking for affection or a Muslim man’s fear of god: While they focus on different subjects, each film is an example of a unique, innovative, original approach. Deliberately paced, dealing with intriguing and important subjects, these art pieces deserve local attention as well as a reception abroad. Perhaps a little pessimistically — but realistically — we remember that Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s masterpiece Distant (Uzak) had yet to be embraced by Turkish audiences even after its Cannes award in 2003.

Ceylan’s FIPRESCI award-winner in the main competition in Cannes 2006, Climates (Iklimler), examines the intricacy of the human psyche through the story of a couple on the brink of separation. With the same style and existentialist approach as Distant, this time with an even more slender storyline, Ceylan delicately manages to navigate the dangerous fields of the human heart. Climates has the potential to reach a wider Turkish audience simply on the director’s name recognition, but still, this minimalist story will struggle in the Turkish market, sharing the same fate of every other international art-house project.

Times and Winds (Bes Vakit), the second Turkish movie screened at the Toronto festival, was awarded “Best Film” by the main jury, as well as the FIPRESCI award, at the Istanbul International Film Festival this year. It tells the tale of a group of children in rural Turkey, studying their alienation through family ties and traditional values. This festival favorite, marvelously directed by Reha Erdem, is also seeking appreciation abroad in preparation for domestic release: Erdem’s previous film, Mommy, I’m Scared (Insan ne dir ki?), opened in Turkey only couple of months ago after screening, and winning awards, at the 2004 Istanbul Film Festival.

Among these three, Takva — A Man’s Fear of God (Takva) is the most controversial. Perhaps it’s the first time that a predominantly Muslim country has confronted the topic of radical beliefs. It’s obvious that Yeni Sinemacilar (New Filmmakers), the team behind the movie, wanted to work with themes surrounding religion and modernism. The main character Muharrem (amazingly played by the Turkish actor Erkan Can) is a person who tries to live his life in accordance with the requirements of 7th century religious teachings. But is it possible in our global capitalist system? (The answer: Not quite.)

Of course, this dilemma exists not only for Muslims, but also for Jews and Christians. With this untouched (and quite untouchable) subject, the film will generate some sensational headlines and spark debate. First time director Özer Kiziltan and scriptwriter-producer Önder Çakar delicately and successfully manage to display man’s fear of god and his conflicts that he can not comprehend. Takva won the Swarovski Cultural Innovation Award in Toronto and soon will be released at home, along with the other two films.

Very local, and at the same time universal in subtext and style, these three important films are examples of bold, brave and innovative filmmaking. They may not seem appealing to local audiences at first glance, but they certainly leave their mark in their country’s cinematic history. The irony, again, is that in order to get local attention, first they need to win the approval of international recognition. Which raises the divine praise one more time: “What are festivals for!”