To Istanbul for the Film

in 36th International Istanbul Film Festival

by Ladislav Volko

The festival threw up a varied international competition. Ladislav Volko was able to see thirteen entries and argues that many had a mood and tone that was almost documentary-like, portraying the everyday lives, rituals and problems of average people in different contexts.

The week I am writing about was all focused on politics and the upcoming referendum. In spite of the fact, film fans of Istanbul didn´t miss the new films at the 36th Istanbul Film Festival. I was in Istanbul and at this film festival for the first time. Which really amazed me the most was how much the young generation of the city is fond of this kind of art. One of the places where the festival took place, Cinemaximum Nisantasi City, was alive from mornings until late at night. Here the international part of the 36th Istanbul Film Festival – The Golden Tulip International Competition, took place.

I was able to see thirteen feature films, from which one was an animated film. All films were on a high professional as well as artistic level. Most of them, to my surprise, were created very realistically and showed everyday life. In some cases the films were not far removed in mood and tone from the documentaries. The only exception was the one animated French film The Girl without Hands (Lajeunefille sans mains), directed by Sébastien Laudenbach and the “erotic thriller” Lady Macbeth, directed by William Oldroyd, based on the novel of Nikolai Leskov. I am sure the connoisseurs of film have realized that the same novel was adapted for film by the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda, few years ago. It would be interesting to compare both of those film adaptations.

My personal favourite film was the Turkish/German film Zer directed by Kazim Oz. The leading character was played by young Albanian actor Nik Xhelilal, who recently became well known for his leading role of the famous Winnetou in the new version of the movie about Native Americans. In the film Zer he played a student from New York who has Kurd roots without knowing it. His dying grandmother sang an old song for him, which had impressed him so much that he decided to find out what kind of strange song it was. He subsequently travelled from one settlement to another, from one village to another, talking with different people, trying to find out some sort of the “gral” of Kurds. He learned about the difficulties of Kurdish life, about their past and history, but at the same time he could see the recent very harsh conditions of personal lives and problems which many of them face. Here and there a black screen suddenly appears – the results of the work of Turkish censors appeared with a note, and only the sound could be heard.

Most of the films from this category were stories of average people, their everyday lives, stereotypes, situations, their dreams, their rituals and their personal problems in different contexts.

Regards other films in competition, My Happy Family (Chemi Bednieri Ojakhi) directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gros is a story of a woman, teacher from Tbilisi, Weirdos, directed by Bruce McDonald is a story set in the Canadian country side of the 60s, while Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993), directed by Carla Simón, tells us a story of a young girl from Catalonia and her adaptation to her new family. The most brutal story from all the films was the Flemish movie Home, directed by Fien Troch. This film is about three teenagers trying to find their place in society. The German film Casting, by Nicolas Wackerbarth is a sort of mirror of the liaisons and values of the protagonists in the rich materialistic society. Playing with reality and dreams is the Swiss-Austrian-Polish production Animals (Tiere), directed by Greg Zglinski.

Two films I saw could be taken for political manifestation. First was the French-Belgium film This is Our Land (Chez nous) directed by Lucas Belvaux, which is the presentation of the very recent pre-election situation in France. Another film has the word manifestation in the name: Manifesto, directed by Julian Rosefeldt and is the criticism of the western life style through different kind of manifests, like the Manifesto of the Communist party or of the Dogma 95. Thirteen characters, played by the same actress, the excellent Cate Blanchett, make the movie provocative, inspiring and disputable.

One of the prizes, the prize of FIPRESCI, awarded this year the Israel-French film In Between (Bar bahar). The director Maysaloun Hamoud confronts traditions and the present, reality and spirituality, pain and joy, cowardice and valour. Traditionally old problems became powerful symbols. This exceptional film has also attracted film juries in Toronto, San Sebastian and Haifa, receiving some valuables awards there as well.

The winner of the Grand Prix award of the international competition, the Golden Tulip, the Portuguese-French-Brazil co-production The Ornithologist (O ornitólogo) directed by Joao Pedero Rodrigues, is again a very personal story. A bird watcher lives life in between reality and dreams, the highs and lows of life, hysteria and madness. His destiny is the projection of the restlessness of a man from a western civilisation in the twenty first century.

Edited by Steven Yates