Turkish Cinema on the Waiting List

in 23rd Istanbul International Film Festival

by Julia Khomiakova

It may seem symbolic that this year in Istanbul’s national program two Turkish movies have “waiting” in their titles: “The Waiting Room” (Bekleme odasi) by Zeki Demirkubuz and “Waiting for the Clouds” (Bulutlari beklerken) by Yesim Ustaoglu. It is evident that Turkish moviemaking is still ‘waiting for a real breakthrough. Even in spite of the fact that I could surely recommend at least four Turkish films for different sections of the Moscow International Film Festival, none of these pictures can be called “a-movie-absolutely-necessary-to-see-whether-you-like-it-or-not-because-it-is-a-big-apple”. Sorry for being so strict! Maybe Turkish filmmakers will forgive me this harshness because being too indulgent means being a bad friend. Anyway, the program of the festival definitely reveals some important processes in Turkish moviemaking nowadays.

One could easily notice that all films made with the support of European film foundations had either a wonderful camera — Patrick Orth in “A Little Bit of Freedom” by Yavuz Yüksel; Jacek Petrycki in “Waiting for the Clouds” by Yesim Ustaoglu; Zeki Demirkubuz whose “The Waiting Room” seemed to me a rarely harmonic film for a director who is also a scriptwriter, cameraman and actor at the same time. Or they had a story easy to understand. A subject adopted to the international audience is the first step to success. A high quality of moviemaking is another necessary condition, and if most films were not that slow and had more dynamic composition and interesting dialogues, what else would you wish? Well, slow tempo is traditional for Turkish social movies, and if both local and international audience accepts this, why not?

By the way, the retrospective screenings of films made by Ömer Kavur shows that Turkish filmmakers are faithful to their heritage — both aesthetical and social. The life of average people that are suffering and desperately struggling for survival, sometimes even ready to work for drug mobsters (“The Nightmare of the Metropol” by Ümit Cin Güven), sometimes bravely opposing their moral values to the hostile outside world (“Tales of Intransigence” by Reis Çelik) — all this is never shown without compassion. A Turkish filmmaker definitely feels like a part of the nation with its never ending social problems. This is probably another strong feeling which remains after the screenings.

However, a lot of other interesting subjects is out of the filmmakers’ sight, and this is a pity. First of all — the history. Sitting in trendy Beyoglu at a screening of the next movie about drug mobsters and recalling your yesterday’s visit to the Blue Mosque or Topkapi, you sometimes really would wish to see some good Turkish costume drama, which may be no less interesting that any European or Chinese historic movie.

Of course, money is badly needed. And I hope that Turkish Ministry for Culture and Tourism will understand it sooner or later. By now Reis Çelik, author of “Tales of Intransigence” (Inat hikayeleri), tried to widen the film space up to a mythological level, and everybody liked this movie first of all because of its untypical subject. Unfortunately, “Vizontele Tuuba” by Yilmaz Erdogan which takes place in 1980 looks too vintage — as if really made in 1980. Was it something like the director’s vision of this story about a village guy who fell in love with the exiled leftist’s disabled daughter? If so, well… Any film director is the first person responsible for a wrong choice.

Another problem is that in the pictures about contemporary life one would also like to see some other guys except for peasant boys or old women (“Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds” by Ahmet Ulucay, “Waiting for the Clouds” by Yesim Ustaoglu), or emigrants (“A Little Bit of Freedom” by Yavuz Yüksel). And this explains why the final decision of the FIPRESCI jury was to award the film “What’s a Human, Anyway” (Insan nedir ki…)by Reha Erdem. This film (shot by cameraman Florent Herry who’s main advantage is a really airy film space which makes the whole picture very lively) shows the everyday life of average Istanbul “city ants” which, on the one hand, is very Turkish: three characters experience the three main steps of male initiation (circumcision, military service, separation from the parents), and it moves a story. But at the same time in this film none of the men has anything in common with Turkish “macho” stereotypes, and none of the women is a subtle housewife under the veil. In fact in this movie you won’t see a complete family (each character here either has no husband or wife), and all of them are united not only by living at the same typical Istanbul house but also by their inferiority and vulnerability.

Will the Turkish filmmakers be brave enough to reveal not only their social problems and private complexes but also their pain and shame? Will there appear some other Turkish comedies after “Under Construction” (Insaat) by Ömer Vargi? Will there ever be made worldwide known Turkish musicals? Will there come a time when Turkish movie stars will be as famous as pop singers or soccer players? Can it happen in general?

I leave Turkish cinema on my waiting list.