Archive for the ‘TURKISH FILM’ Category

The Cemil Show (2021) Rotterdam Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Baris Sarhan; Cast: Ozan Celik, Nesrin Cavadzade, Alican Yücesoy; Basar Alemdar, Fuat Kökek; Turkey 2020, 106 min.

This first feature by Turkish writer/director Baris Sarhan is an inventive spoof, combining ‘old’ footage of classic Turkish B-pictures with a Kafkaesque setting in a modern shopping mall. Charisma alone is not enough on to justify the film’s generous running time, and so much of the playful impact is lost as The Cemil Show strains to entertain for nearly two hours on a wafer thin story.

So the plot is simple: Cemil (Celik) is a security guard in a maze-like mall where he holds down his mundane day job desperate to be an actor. When one his favourite films is due for a re-make, Cemil throws himself into rehearsing the role of his hero, the monster villain Turgay Göral from the original outing. Full of hope he then heads off for an audition, but leaves empty-handed, disillusioned and angry.

There is a silver lining when Cemil discovers Göral (Kökek) is still alive, although very much down on his luck. He then discovers his hero’s daughter Burcu (Cavadzade) is working in the same mall, and has set her heart on Zaher (Yücesoy), the draconian staff manager. A bittersweet but rather weak ending sees Cemil watching old films with his hero Göral (Alemdar), the monstrous villain in all his films.

All said and done, The Cemil Show is a charming romp with its stylish retro B-picture extracts. DoP Soykut Turan gets a chance to show off a variety of skills, his grainy black-and-white images contrasting impressively with the more baroque colour sequences of the parallel action. Sarhan is a talented newcomer who would excels with a more disciplined approach to his filmmaking. AS


Aether (2019) **** Visions du Reel 2019

DIR: Rûken Tekes | Doc, Turkey 82′

Time is up for the past in Hasankeyf. This ancient town in southeastern Turkey, declared a conservation area in 1981, is now at risk of being flooded due to the completion of the controversial Ilisu Dam.

Many have known exile, but to lose an entire homeland forever without trace is an unimaginable tragedy. But that is what will happen to the 20,000 or so inhabitants who will be displaced forever, torn from their roots by the project. In her debut feature, Rûken Tekes uses a lightness of touch to raise the profile of this eco-tragedy, distilling the unique mysterious essence of this ancient city doomed to disappear forever.

With over 12,000 years of rich history behind its location in the valley of the Tigris River, in the Kurdish part of Turkey, Hasankeyf will soon sink beneath an artificial lake, in order to allow for the construction of the hydroelectric dam. Tekes doesn’t try to explain the details of this annihilation but instead creates a space in which the spirit of the place can express itself in its final months. A space that transcends time and reveals the natural cycles of creation, and destruction that lie at the heart of the film.

History transcends mere words and explanations. So her portrait is a dialogue-free sensory one told through a series of exquisite widescreen tableaux vivants accompanied by an ambient , Tekes reflects on the meaning of a past so primordial and unimaginable to our modern eyes we can only watch with awe and wonder as the images unfold the ambient sound of birds and nature enhancing an experience that feels otherworldly yet very much connected to this unique place. This is a remote corner of the earth where centuries of inbreeding has taken its toll on those who have struggled to survive. A death mute woman expresses her tangible disdain for the project in the only way she is able, her lack of words enhancing the emotional pain expressed in her whole body. Another mute man attempts with sign language to convey his feelings about the movement of strategic monuments to another location so that the future can take over. Some resort to playing folkloric music, or even performing ritualistic dances.  Others just sit silently in bars, their facial expressions signalling deep sadness and disappointment for their forthcoming loss. Rather than listing the treasures that will soon be lost, the film transmit a palpable sense of doom as the heavy machinery arrives in silence in preparation for the translocation. But soon whirring engines signal the start of construction. Aether is a delicately drawn, awe-inspiring love letter to loss. MT


Nuri Bilge Ceylan | The Complete Works

Nuri Bilge’s langorously contemplative dramas draw on Turkish life and offer a unique style of visual storytelling often reflecting his personal experiences as exponents of the disillusionment and unfairness of Turkish life, particularly where family trauma or social injustice implodes on the individual.

The past collides with the present, the countryside with the city and the rich with the poor in these gorgeously rendered reveries that muse on fraught domestic scenarios, betrayal or officialdom calling to mind the work of Tolstoy, Ibsen or even Terence Davies. 

Social realism shapes his early work that observes everyday life in thoughtful moments of reflection. His beguiling moody cinematic style and need for spontaneity combines magnificent widescreen images with a potent intimacy that draws us into the minds of his often troubled characters whose lives are exposed through vibrant visual storytelling. His delicately rendered black and white feature debut Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997) sees the changing seasons through the eyes of two school children whose family is at odds with the local set-up in and forms part of the unofficial “Provincial Trilogy” along with Clouds of May and Uzak.

Uzak is a study in alienation which sees a man’s life imploding after his marriage breaks down and he is forced to re-adjust to changing circumstances of his personal life. In some ways this same theme is teased out in Climates that explores the deteriorating relationship of a married couple and the repercussions as their marriage slows spins out of control. Two crime thrillers follow: The powerful Three Monkeys is a visual metaphor for anxiety, a moody reflection on family guilt echoed after a tragedy under the glowering skies of Istanbul. The darkly amusing Once Upon a Time in Anatolia burns through the torpor of a stifling summer afternoon where the impact of crime and officialdom weighs down on the lives of those involved in a local murder and their tight-knit families. Clouds of May (2009) actually stars his own father as a filmmaker returning to his village to cast the locals in a feature about their daily trials and tribulations.

In his Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep (2014) Ceylan hones his discursive style in an intense meditation on the ties that bind. Set in the snow-swept panoramas of his beloved Anatolia, a couple engage at length on the complexities of their relationship and their family. This brings us full circle to his most recent and resonant work The Wild Pear Tree that once again sees the present connecting with the past when a troubled writer returns to his hometown in Marmara to seek financing for a book while dealing with his ageing father’s gambling debts.








Uzak | Distant (2002) ****

Dir/DoP:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Cast: Muzaffer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Mazan Kirilmis, Feridun Koc, Fatma Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan | Drama Turkey

In his third feature Uzak you can sees Ceylan gradually transitioning from the social realist cinema verite style of his early two works to something more like an urban arthouse drama. Spare on dialogue and score, Mozart’s Symphony Concertante (K364) accentuates the feeling of displacement and alienation in this thoughtfully sober two-hander.

At this stage Ceylan is still writing, photographing, editing and producing his own features and this melancholy depiction of loneliness and isolation is set in a dour and wintry Istanbul where Yusuf (Mehmet Emin Topak) fetches up from the country in order to find work on the banks of the Bosphorus. He moves in with Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) a distant relative and successful photographer whose flat over looks the harbour. Keen on arthouse cinema, particularly Tarkovsky, he enjoys the company of various women friends or hanging out in a jazz-filled local cafe. The contrast between the rough-edged young blade and the louche yet faintly sophisticated older man makes Distant compellingly watchable as the two ruffle each others feathers in a low-key but extremely masculine way. Ceylan’s static camera observes their daily life from a detached point of view: eavesdropping on casual conversations, laconic encounters and familiar comings and goings in the block of flats where they live out an uneventful existence.  .

Mahmut is often pictured in front of the TV, his feet up on a poof, enjoying a film while in the background distant conversations emanate from the concierge downstairs. His wife Nazan has left him and he has grown accustomed to his state of isolation almost relishing it as a badge of honour and with a comforting pride. But he still mourns hiss loss. Meanwhile his mother is forever leaving urgent messages on the ‘phone which he ignores as a matter of course.

Yusuf, on the other hand, is uneasy and restless, out of sync with his newfound urban freedom. He spends his days idly wandering around the locale, trying to meet women in the hope that something will give without much effort on his part, in the style of Dickens’ Mr McCawber. A poignant moment sees him worrying about the suffering of little mouse which Mahmut has tried to poison. The country boy still has a feeling for nature, lost to the man inured to harshness of city life.

Stunningly visual, leisurely and slow-burning but not to the extent of his later films Winter Sleep and The Wild Pear Tree, this is very much a tale from the city that relies on an atmosphere and takes the viewpoint of a detached observer allowing plenty of scope for our imagination to wander and even enjoy the subtle situational humour created by the growing friction between these uneasy flatmates who are clearly both lonely but also loathe to come to any satisfactory modus vivendi. The only moment of real drama is when Mahmut berates Yusuf about not flushing the lavatory. And this leads to a contretemps with the older many suddenly tiring of this young feckless loser who expects to be handed things on a plate, a conversation which highlights Ceylan’s ongoing preoccupation: the contrast between town and country; the old and the new. MT




London Turkish Film Week | 24-30 April 2019

London Turkish Film Week is back for a second year running in the luxurious surroundings of the Regent Street Cinema and various other well-known venues across the capital. From 24 -30 April a selection of recent dramas and documentaries will be accompanied by talks and a chance to meet the directors and cast.

Turkish cinema is known for its captivating widescreen dramas that reflect the cultural diversity and magnificent scenery of a vibrant nation that stretches from Europe to Asia.

The festival opens with Can Ulkay’s epic TURKISH ICE CREAM (2018) a rousing, rather clichéd melodrama inspired by real events that took place in a small Australian town in 1915 during the Gallipoli landings. Two Turkish nationals are trying to get back to their homeland with their families. Seen from a Turkish point of view – and naturally depicting the Allied Forces as inveterate baddies – the brutal action scenes depict the futility of war, from both sides. The emphasis here is on action rather than characterisation: so although nearly everyone dies, we don’t really care, as we never got to know them in the first place. Carrying on the war theme there is CICERO (2018) a drama based on Ilyas Bazna, one of the most famous WWII spies who worked for Nazi Germany while employed as a butler to the British Ambassador, Hughe Montgomery Knatchbull Hughessen, in neutral Turkey during the mid 1940s.

The Golden Tulip winner 2017 YELLOW HEAT (Sari Sicak) sees an immigrant family desperate to survive in their traditional farm amid encroaching industrialisation. The multi-award winning drama YOZGAT BLUES (2013), set in small town Anatolia, is one to watch for its outstanding performances and smouldering cinematography. Banu Sivaci’s THE PIGEON (main image) won best director at Sofia Film Festival 2018 and is another impressive arthouse tale of a boy finding peace with the animal kingdom, away from the dystopian world in small-town Adana, Southern Turkey. And finally MURTAZA another beautifully crafted and resonant parable about the importance of traditional values in the mountains of Malatya.

Other features and shorts reflect the usual Turkish themes of town versus country, tradition versus the modern world, and the role of women in enlightened society. Another highlight will be Ahmet Boyacioglu’s latest film THE SMELL OF MONEY a tense and startling exposé of financial corruption in contemporary Turkey. And last but not least, a panel of industry professionals will debate the future of the big screen At the Flicks of Netflix? at the Regent Street Cinema on 26th April.


A Tale of Three Sisters (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Wri/Dir: Emin Alper | Cast: Cemre Ebuzziya, Ece Yuksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Acikgoz, Mufit Kayacan, Kubilay Tuncer, Hilmi Ozcelik, Basak Kivilcim Ertanoglu | Turkish, 108’

A tale of Three Sisters seems like a step backwards for Emin Alper who started his career with the outstanding psychodrama Beyond the Hill. Frenzy followed promisingly, an Istanbul set story of political turmoil.

This folkloric family fable sees him back in another rural part of Turkey, in an Anatolian mountainside village cut off from the modern world. Here three daughters are trying to escape to the capital Ankara, but are thwarted by their poor skillset and the domineering men in their lives.

Almost like a Grimm’s fairy tale the feature is imbued with a mythical quality tethered in old world customs and beliefs. There is even a village idiot who somersaults down the valley with a macabre grin – and teeth to match. But the lack of a gripping storyline sees the film rambling on for nearly two hours without a strong dramatic arc to keep us engaged.

Life goes on as it always has in this village unable to learn by its mistakes. The men drink coffee while the women look after the home. The eldest sister Reyhan (Cemre Ebuzziya) has just had a baby boy and is married to Veysal (Kayhan Acikgoz), a superstitious, embittered loser who we first meet tending his sheep on a cold winter’s night. He soon abandons the herd when confronted by two men looking to buy the fold. And his cowardly nature is the key to the second of the film’s minor tragedies unfolding in the underwhelming finale. Death, birth and illiteracy are the main setbacks for women in this patriarchal set up

Havva (Helin Kandemir), the youngest, and the middle sister Nurhan (Ece Yuksel) seem unable to be trusted with kids and have been dismissed from their care-giving jobs in Ankara by wealthy urbanite Mr Necati (Kubilay Tuncer) who controls everyone’s lot in the village. They have taken part in the Bessemer tradition whereby girls from poor families go to wealthier ones. But due to State changes these girls often never get away again and are abandoned forever in old world poverty. Their kindly widowed father, Sevket (Mufit Kayacan), is determined to find the girls other positions although they are semi-illiterate. 

Before going back to Ankara, Necati enjoys an hilltop raki picnic with Sevket and the village chief. But an unfortunate contretemps develops with Veysal ending in a punch up. Angered and resentful, the herder goes home where he also upsets Reyhan with tragic consequences.

Shot on the widescreen the magical mountain panoramas dominate along with the hostile terrain and climate. DoP Emre Erkmen works wonders with the glowing interiors where dramatic colours compliment the girls’ heightened emotions echoed in the lilting tunes of folk singers and a tremulous violin score. MT


London Turkish Film Week 2018 | 12 -16 December 2018

If there’s a common thread that runs through Turkish cinema it lies in the vast nation’s landscape and nature that shapes and often divides human relationships. And nowhere is this more so than in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme d’Or winner WINTER SLEEP (2014), set in the Anatolia’s mountain region of Cappadocia. Whilst the mountains represent freedom, his human characters fight it out in a claustrophobic hotel. Men are usually out of touch with their emotions in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and Winter Sleeps anti-hero Aydin is no exception. A former actor, living from his inherited wealth his property portfolio makes him a feudal lord, even though he sees himself more as an intellectual. Living with his much younger wife Nihal and recently divorced sister Necla, Ceylan confronts him with his weaknesses, peeling away his persona away layer by layer. Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin, his wife and sister where the camera catches them in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing hurt on the women’s faces, and Aydin’s sarcastic smile. Echoing Bresson in Au hazard Balthazar, Ceylan uses Schubert’s piano sonata no. 20 to score the sequences between Aydin and his wife – the region’s wild horses serve as a metaphor for their seething discontent; in a more generous mood Aydin has freed one of the beasts to return to the wild. Ceylan’s intensity never lets up, leaving WINTER SLEEP as an unforgettable chronicle of human psychological warfare, amidst a towering landscape.

GRAIN (2017), directed by Semih Kaplanogu (Honey), is based on a chapter from the Quran, but can easily compete with the best of Hollywood’s dystopia. A scientist working for an all-powerful Corporation, flees into the wasteland surrounding the heavily controlled city, to find a supply grain uncontaminated by GM. There he meets a stranger, who leads him to a secret location in the rugged terrain where they eventually find what they are looking for. Giles Nuttgens’ stark black-and-white camerawork conveys a post-apocalyptic world, dwarfing the human element. An enigmatic narrative scratches to be heard in this devastated landscape where Ufo-like fighter planes hunt down the characters like animals. Kaplanogu’s symbolism echoes Tarkovsky as his protagonists are overwhelmed by the destruction of nature, a strong ‘end of days’ feeling, where fragmentation triumphs over the human weak attempts to save themselves and the planet.  A terrifying and prescient drama. 

In her debut HICRAN AND MELEK, director Esra Vesu Ozcelik explores the true meaning of female emancipation in a discursive drama set in a small rural community where Iman’s daughter Hicran hopes to find a decent job and a fulfilling marriage. Her childhood friend Melek left a decade ago for Istanbul, where she’s been working in a night club. But her abusive boyfriend has driven her back home. The two women look at their lives but never really find any answers. Again, the landscape is shown as a feature of personal identification.

Dervis Zaim’s DREAM is by the far the most ambitious feature of this year’s programme. Sine is an architect who very much sides with Prince Charles’ traditionalist views in her dislike of contemporary building design. But she is driven to eventually distraction when no-one will support her latest scheme for a cave-like mosque. Suffering from stress and insomnia, she goes into in a sleeping clinic. The treatment has a profound effect on her psychologically and physically: her four different identities then focus on one goal: to finish the project. Based on the ‘Seven Sleepers’ myth, Dream is not only a feminist manifest, but a coruscating critique of contemporary architecture.




Berlinale 2019 – First competition films announced

Opening this year with Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers, the 69th Berlinale Film Festival (7-17 February) has announced the first competition films which include the latest from regulars François Ozon, Denis Côté and Fatih Akin.

Serbian director Angela Schanelec will present her latest film I Was at Home, but, and Emin Alper will be there with A Tale of Three Sisters, a follow up to his dazzling drama Beyond the Hill

Also competing is The Ground Beneath my Feet from Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer.

In the Berlinale Special Gala Section there is Gully Boy from Zoya Aktar (India), Heinrich Breloer’s drama Brecht which stars Trina Dyrholm and Tom Schilling and Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the Watergate scandal


Der Boden unter den Füßen (The Ground Beneath My Feet) Austria/World Premiere

by Marie Kreutzer (The Fatherless, We Used to be Cool)

with Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hörbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Axel Sichrovsky, Dominic Marcus Singer, Meo Wulf

Der Goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove) Germany/France/World Premiere

by Fatih Akin (Head On, In the Fade)

with Jonas Dassler, Margarethe Tiesel, Hark Bohm

Grâce à dieu (By the Grace of God) France/International Premiere

by François Ozon (8 Women, In the House)

with Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Éric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Bernard Verley, Martine Erhel, Josiane Balasko, Hélène Vincent, François Chattot, Frédéric Pierrot

Ich war zuhause, aber (I Was at Home, but) Germany / Serbia/World Premiere

by Angela Schanelec (The Dreamed Path, Marseille)

with Maren Eggert, Franz Rogowski, Lilith Stangenberg, Jakob Lassalle, Clara Möller

Kız Kardeşler (A Tale of Three Sisters) Turkey / Ger/ Neth/ Greece/World Premiere

by Emin Alper (Beyond the Hill, Frenzy)

with Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Açikgöz, Müfit Kayacan, Kubilay Tunçe

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) Canada/World Premiere

by Denis Côté (A Skin So Soft, Bestiaire)

with Robert Naylor, Josée Deschênes, Jean-Michel Anctil, Larissa Corriveau, Rémi Goulet, Diane Lavallée, Hubert Proulx, Rachel Graton, Normand Carrière, Jocelyne Zucco

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast 

Gully Boy /India/ World Premiere

by Zoya Akhtar (You Won’t Get This Life Again, Lust Stories)

with Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, Vijay Verma 

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Brecht /Germany / Austria/World Premiere

by Heinrich Breloer (The Manns – Novel of a Century, Buddenbrooks – The Decline of a Family)

with Burghart Klaußner, Tom Schilling, Adele Neuhauser, Trine Dyrholm, Mala Emde, Franz Hartwig, Friederike Becht, Ernst Stötzner, Lou Strenger

Watergate – Documentary/USA/Euro Premiere

by Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight, Inside Job)

with Douglas Hodge, Jill Wine-Banks, Dan Rather, Lesley Stahl, Richard Ben-Veniste


The Wild Pear Tree | Ahlat Agaci (2018)****

Dir/Writer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan/Ebru Ceylan | Cast: Serkan Keskin, Hazar Erguclu, Ahmet Rifat Sungar | Drama | Turkey/France/Germany/Bulgaria/Macedonia/Bosnia and Herzegovina/Sweden 2018 | 188′

For some the countryside is a retreat where hopes and dreams merge with solitude and recovery. For a father and a son in THE WILD PEAR TREE the sweeping landscapes of Western Turkey’s Marmara region are a place of shattered hopes and despair.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan imbues his melancholy mood piece with the usual visual richness in a slow-burning saga that revolves around aspiring writer Sinan (Aydin Dogu Demirkol) who returns from army service to his native village to raise the money to publish his first book. But his father’s debts catch up with him and put a stop to his personal aspirations. Running at a little over three hours, this long-awaited follow to Winter Sleep and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia takes the customary languorous and discursive pace. The wide screen splendour also makes time for quietly intimate moments but there is no melodrama or ‘major developments’ in a film that plays out contemplatively as the story naturally unfolds.

Sinan is not particularly glad to be back home in the small rural village of Çan, where he holds the community in disdain. But his father Idris’ gambling has spiralled out of control causing his mother and sister to do without, so Sinan starts to do the rounds of friends and family in search of finance for his literary endeavour.

Contrary to the title, a wild pear tree never features in the film, and there is no love lost between Sinan and his father Idris, their relationship slowly deteriorating for obvious reasons. There is a sense of longing for urban civilisation, and while the film takes much delight in the convincingly creditable characterisations and conversation pieces, which are quietly enjoyable, often philosophical (even a little bit over talky at times), it’s clear that Sinan is no more enamoured with this rural idyll than when he reluctantly arrived.

Ceylan returns to the evergreen signature themes that have been present in his work since the beginning and have gained him a reputation and a strong following, along with his elegantly crafted widescreen style and well-rounded character studies. And there is always a touch of dry wit to lighten proceedings while grounding them in community, local politics, moral and ethical issues and family concerns.

In some ways, his latest is an expansion of his FIPRESCI and Golden Tulip winner Clouds of May (1999) and has the same ripe quality of visual sumptuousness throughout. Dermirkol plays Sinan as a vaguely unsympathetic character whose ennui with his family and rural life simply demonstrates an ardent need to get on with his aspirations rather than indicating a deeply flawed personality. But maybe they are one in the same. Ceylan eyes his antihero in a detached and observational way that makes him really convincing as a representative of his generation. In contrast to the self-sacrificing heroes of the early 1900s, Sinan is a full-fledged 21st century man. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 30 NOVEMBER 2018 | Cannes Film Festival Premiere

Three Monkeys (2008) ****

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Cast: Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Aslan, Ahmet Rifat Sungar, Ercan Kesal | Thriller, Turkey 109′

Three Monkeys is a visual metaphor for anxiety and suspicion, a moody reflection on family guilt after a tragedy under the glowering skies of Istanbul. Three Monkeys is a masterpiece in stylish visual storytelling. Writing with his wife Ebru, Ceylan keeps his plot and narrative ambiguous to focus on an atmosphere seething with angst ridden doubt. His characters make spurious assumptions that eventually lead to their undoing.

The plot is brilliantly simple yet loaded with potential for emotional meltdown: under a cloud of dismay and financial hardship, Eyup and Hacer live in a modest flat overlooking the Bosphorus with their aimless son Ismail, whose brother has recently died. One dark night Eyup’s politically ambitious boss Servet hits a pedestrian on a lonely road. Eyup agrees to take the rap – a short stay in prison – for a chunk of money that will repay a debt he owes his father. While Eyup is away, the feckless Ismail buys a car with part of the money to secure a job as a driving instructor. Hacer then falls for Servet who decides to repay Eyup in full, including the amount Ismail has spent on the car. But Eyup regards his largesse with suspicion and soon puts two and two together.

The sheer intensity of Three Monkeys is captivating – keeping us in thrall as the four main characters gradually unravel in a way that is rare in modern cinema, invigorated by Gokhan Tiryaki’s vibrant images and stunning performances from Yavuz Bingol, Hatice Aslan and Ahmet Sungar whose facial expressions convey all we need to know and more. A simple tragedy leads to a constantly changing dynamic between the central characters who are poisoned by a self-seeking outsider. Pure cinematic joy that deservedly won Ceylan Best Director at Cannes 2008. MT



Yuva (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

Dir/scr: Emre Yeksan | Drama | Turkey. 2018. 119′

From the depths of Southern Anatolia comes this exploration of subsistence in the wild. And although it very much connects with the narrative of the survival for remote communities; in this case, it sees a man trying to disconnect from his human companions in order to pursue life on his own in nature.

YUVA is writer/director Emre Yeksan’s follow-up to Körfez. Set in the heart of a wooded wilderness, Yuva relies on minimal dialogue and an evocative ambient soundtrack to guide us through a sensory rather than plot driven story of Veysel (Kutay Sandikci) who has left his urban past behind, along with his family, to seek solace in nature and the animal kingdom, Veysel is attempting to rewind his own process of evolution as a human, and so make a purer connection with his natural surroundings.

The verdant lushness of the scenery and the extraordinary otherworldly peace and quiet are the most pleasurable elements that Yeksan conveys together with his commendable sound designer and composer Mustafa Avci. Veysal appears out of the undergrowth carrying an injured animal to the base of a tree that will provide an enigmatic touchstone to this experimental drama (along with a red cross painted on the trunk), as the story unfolds. Veysel is clearly at one with his surroundings, hardly uttering a word until he is roused from his relaxed state of mind by his brother Hasan (Eray Cezayirlioglu) who arrives with some groceries and supplies. Clearly these two are close and very fond of one another and this is shown through kind gestures, one to the other. But the suggestive supernatural elements (poetic realist dreamscapes) are never properly developed. The pace soon quickens into something more febrile in the second act when this rural idyll is disturbed by the arrival of builders – the curse of modern day life – and their guns make it clear that Veysel is not welcome. Anyone who lives in an urban setting knows how miserable life becomes once the developers arrive with their schemes to make money, and more importantly noise and disruption, and this is will resonate with a worldwide audience. The coming of these sinister interlopers sees Veysel drawn back into the human sphere from which he has tried to detach himself. Perhaps Yeksan is hinting at a metaphor for a negative political climate, or even just the simple encroachment of family concerns that threaten to cloud our lives when we aim to escape for some respite.

YUVA eschews a traditional narrative and is experimental in nature, working best as a meditation in its woodland habitat, entrancing us with the ethereal sense of place captured by Jakub Giza’s mesmerising camerawork and breathtaking visuals that lull us into a sense of calm. When the ever loudening sound of chainsaws starts to rupture the placid serenity of it all, Veysel’s motivations seem entirely justified in his desire to escape. Yeksan creates a timely and innovative drama that echoes our atavistic human need to connect with nature, and to seek the peace that will contributes to our collective mental health. MT


SAF (2018) **** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Ali Vatansever; Cast: Saadet Isil Aksoy, Erol Afsin; Turkey/ Romania/Germany 2018, 101 min.

Ali Vatansever’s SAF is a paean to a lesser known part of Istanbul, where the denizens of the Fikirtepe district are hounded out of their homes to make way for luxury apartment blocks. Kamil’s story is symbolic of the uprooting and exploitation of ordinary working people who then resort to racism when they are unable to fight or even identify their real enemies. SAF also reminds us that racism is rife in every corner of the world where the old guard must now accommodate the newcomers.

We first meet Kamil (Afsin) at the gates of a building site. He’s a decent bloke trying to defend a Syrian émigré against his Turkish colleagues who call him a “filthy Arab who wants to take our jobs away”. The truth is Syrian workers are paid less than the native Turks, who call them scabs. Kamil finally gets a job on another building project, replacing the Syrian bulldozer driver Ammar, laid off due to a shoulder injury. At home, Kamil’s wife Remziye (Aksoy) is saving her paltry wages so she can afford to have a baby. Remziye works for a wealthy Turkish family in one of the newbuild luxury blocks. But Remziye also starts bending the rules upsetting her husband when he discovers her taking more than their fair share from the communal vegetable garden. “It does not matter that the others do it”, he tells her.

But his troubles at work are only just beginning: Kamil doesn’t have a licence to operate the bulldozer (unlike Ammar) and the licence fee – more or less a bribe to the bureaucratic authorities – is pretty steep. Fatih won’t lend him the money but the two strike a deal to try and get rid of Ammar. But after the plan goes wrong, Kamil disappears. The final scenes are played out through Remziye’s perspective.

Vatansever’s detached style never resorts to melodrama or sentimentality in showing how innocent people are often helplessly caught up in rapid social change, Their racism is ugly but is just a deflection of their own fears. Kamil tries his best to stay neutral, but in the end he is so overwhelmed by a family demanding he bends the rules for their own advantage.  SAF is carried forward by the sheer brilliance of Saadet Isil Aksoy whose Remziye acts in an enlightened and humanitarian way when the chips are down. DoP Vladimir Panduru shows the ugliness of poverty but also the lyrical poetry that lies between the tracks. With echoes of Barnet and Pudovkin’s early films. SAF is as impressive as it’s low key, Aksoy’s presence giving it a magical touch. Ali Vatansever demonstrates how less can be so much more. AS          

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2018                    



Clair Obscur | Tereddut (2016)

Dir.: Yesim Ustaglu; Cast: Funda Eryigit, Ecem Uzum, Mehmet Kurtulus, Okan Yalabik, Serkan Kesucin, Sema Poyraz

100min | Turkey/Poland/France 2016 | Drama

Writer/director Ysim Ustaglu is known for her soulful portraits of characters in challenging circumstances in Turkey. Her latest Clair Obscur is about two women who, at first sight, seem to have very little in common. But as the harrowing narrative unfolds we learn a lot about the fate of many women in Muslim society – regardless of their social status.

Shenaz (Eryigit) works as a psychiatrist in a hospital in small seaside town. One of her patients, a teenager called Elmas (Uzun), has been found one morning on the balcony of the flat she shared with her husband, Koca (Kesucin) and her mother-in-law Kaynana (Poyraz). The older woman, a diabetic, is found dead in her bed, while Koca died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Elmas seems to have no memory of the night in question, but Shenaz works patiently with her to unblock her memory.

It soon emerges that Elmas had to marry her husband, who was in his forties, when she was only thirteen. Her father had her passport changed, and she was literally carted off straight from school. From the first days of their marriage, Koca literally rapes Elmas every night, causing her physical and emotional distress. Shenaz doesn’t fare much better, despite her more privileged background. Her jealous boyfriend is a great cook but a lousy lover who tries to control her. But when Shenaz finally finds someone else, her boyfriend threatens to kill Shenaz and himself.

Clair Obscur is a sensitively told drama but some may find it too opaque and ambiguous; the relationship between Shenaz and the two men in her life only becomes clear at the very end. And her therapy sessions with Elmas show positive results in days – this would take months or even years in a real setting. Still, Eryigit and Uzun are convincing as the two distraught women, and DoP Michael Hammon makes the claustrophobia of their marginalised lives seem real despite its modern day setting, using muted colours in the maritime locations. Clair Oscur is similar in tone to the work of Ustaglu’s fellow countryman Nuri Bilge Ceylan, presenting a unique female voice from Turkey. AS

CLAIR OSCUR won the Golden Tulip Award |  Best Feature | Antalya Film Festival 2016

Abluka | Frenzy (2015) |

Writer|Director: Emin Alper

Cast: Mehmet Ozgur, Berkay Ates, Tülin Özen, Ozan Akbaba

Drama  Turkish with subtitles

Mehmet Ozgur played the central role in writer|director Emin Alper’s stunning debut Beyond the Hill. Here he is again as the eldest brother in a family struggling to survive political violence in a dystopian Istanbul. Menacing by the same brooding tone of his first feature, FRENZY (Abluka) is a study in paranoia that transport the threat experienced in the mountains of Beyond the Hill‘s Karaman, to an urban setting in the capital.  Here the authorities here are losing control, and to achieve a semblance of order, Kadir and his brother Ahmet (Berkey Ates) are working to establish a reasonable living environment by clearing away undesirable elements: stray dogs are mercilessly shot and rubbish is collected and disposed of on a daily basis. But despite these methods of civil control, disorder rears its ugly head.

As in all Turkish films, the family is crucial to the storyline: and the family is usually divisive in some way. Here, the violent city environment – nightly bomb blasts from ‘terrorism’ and an aggressive police presence, are having a de-stabilising effect on Kadir’s relationship with Ahmet. Ahmet’s wife has left with their children. The middle brother Ali has disappeared. Kadir has served time in prison and is now working out his parol in a community-based rubbish clearance project which includes ‘bomb’ disposal. The stray dogs appear as a metaphor for the universal theme immigration. As a clever corollary to this, when Ahmet discovers an injured dog in his street, he takes him in but treats him badly.

Ahmet is clearly at odds with Kadir and resents his constant visits which turn into menacing intrusions with Kadir practically banging down the door and ringing his ‘phone incessantly. Ahmet retreats into himself as an act of defiance and fear. The two are clearly not communicating: another modern predicament that is skillfully woven in the storyline. Kadir’s boss (Mufit Mayacan)  starts to question his overly diligent report-writing (Mufit Kayacan). The projection here is evident. But in the absence of any real threats or tangible facts in this febrile and suspicious environment, one starts to tire of the enigmatic thriller and its suberb but deafening electronic score (Cevdet Erek also scored SIVAS). That said, this is a well-crafted affair set both on the widescreen and in intimate domestic scenes that successful evokes how daily paranoia can seep into the fabric of our everyday lives threaten our ability to communicate successfully and healthily. Alper has built a menacing thriller that conveys this paranoia with dramatic affect. While it has it downsides, he is a director worth following. MT


Mustang (2015) **** On Mubi

Dir: Deniz Gamze Erguven | Cast: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeyneb Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan; Nihal G. Kolda, Ayberk Pekcan | 97min | Drama | France/ Turkey/Germany/Qatar.

Turkish director Deniz Gamze Erguven has won international awards for her short films. Her feature debut is an emotional and ideological tour-de-force exploring how five sisters fight repression in a small Turkish village: Mustang is a vehement political statement and a great example of female solidarity.

On the last day of school, five orphaned teenage girls have a harmless water fight on the beach with their male friends. After watching them, a sneaky neighbour informs their grandmother (Koldas) and uncle Erol (Pekcan) complaining of “sexual perversion”. The girls are literally barricading into their home, their grandmother dragging the three older girls off for a “virginity test” in hospital. But the draconian behaviour doesn’t end there -‘phones, mobiles, computers and TVs are confiscated, as the girls are forced into frumpy clothes, their grandmother insisting on cooking classes to keep them ‘suitably’ busy, prepare them for marriage and making the house into a “wife factory.

Mustang feels like a story from medieval times but this is rural Turkey in the 21th century Turkey. What makes it so enjoyable is the girls’ ingenuity in the face of discipline. Sonay (Akdogan), the oldest, at least gets the husband she wants: her long-term boyfriend Ekin. But Selma (Sunguroglu) ends up with the clumsy Osman, whom she hardly knows. Ece (Iscan) tries to fatten herself up by eating sweats non-stop to put her future – unloved husband off – but commits suicide in the end. But grandmother and uncle go on regardless: finding a husband for Nur (Doguslu). The two grown-ups share a guilty secret: uncle Erol is has been abusing Nur sexually for quite a while. The youngest Lale (Sensoy), the most spirited of the quintet, finally takes over: whilst the wedding party is outside, waiting for the bride to emerge, Lale and Nur are barricades themselves into the house, before trying to escape to Istanbul.

Shot in the Inebolu, in the North-East of Turkey, with an all-Turkish cast, MUSTANG nevertheless has a West-European aesthetic since Erguven grew up in France. Sexual politics are in the forefront: whilst the girls discuss their bourgeoning sexuality openly with each other, for the grown-ups this topic is a taboo.The grandmother leaves a ’50s “guide for girls” on the kitchen table. And when Selma’s hymen does not rupture during the couple’s first intercourse after the wedding, the enraged parents drag her to a hospital, where the understanding doctor can calm them down. The old woman’s complicity with her son over his abuse of Nur, is unfortunately not only a problem encountered in Muslim countries. Which leads us to the wider implications: the excuse that forced marriages are necessary for social peace in Islam societies (as voiced by the grandmother and her son) is just a scam: Men very much participate in all the “vices” of modern Western culture, they just do not want to give up their privileges: since the repression of women forced to live in the medieval times in 21st century.

DOPs Ersin Gok and David Chizallet evoke a perfect ‘huis clos’ atmosphere in the house: the gloomy images give a feeling of lock-down, with the ugly clothes as prison garbs. And whenever Lale escapes to learn to drive, meeting the friendly Yasin (Yigit) – who teaches her – alas with no success – the sobriety recedes and the colours become bright and joyful. Even the mention of ‘Istanbul’, a heaven of freedom, brightens up the atmosphere in the house. The ensemble cast are outstanding with a dynamite turn from debutant Sensoy: her Lale is so full of vitality, resistance and ingenuity, that in spite of her age, she pioneers the fight for freedom. MUSTANG is not perfect, there are over-melodramatic moments in the football stadium with the girls celebrating in an all-female crowd – but the powerfully passionate, stringent offensive approach Erguven choses, is impressive. AS


Ivy (2015) | East End Film Festival | Best Feature

Dir.: Tolga Karaçelik

Cast: Osman Alkas, Kadir Cermik, Nadir Saribacak, Ozgur Emre Yildirim, Hakan Karsak, Seyithan Ozturk

Turkey 2015,104 min Thriller | Horror

Tolga Karacelik (Toll Booth) seems to tell a straight story about a mutiny on a vessel stranded off the Egyptian coast, when suddenly and unexpectedly he changes gear and genre, leaving the audience as stranded as the crew.

Captain Beybaba (Alkas), aloof and usually locked in his room, has little to choose from when he hires two new crew members: Cenk (Saribacak) and Alper (Yildirim) are both dope heads, but they will have to do, since the rest of the crew has not been paid for months. But the situation gets worse when Beybaba learns that the owner has been declared bankrupt, which means that if they pull into port, the ship and cargo would be impounded, and no wages paid. Beybaba, ankering a few hundred metres away from the shore, decides to stay on the ship with five men, the minimum number of crew, and wait for the situation to be resolved so that he and the men get their wages.

Apart from the two newcomers (who are running away from both the gang members and the police) the crew consists of Ismail (Cermik), the captain’s deputy, who tries to fulfil all orders with relish; the young cook Nadir (Karsak) and a nameless Kurdish hulk who says little (Ozturk). After over a month, and no prospect of wages, Cenk, a weasel of a man, finds it easy to stir up a revolt. Whilst Nadir is caught in the middle, Ismail has great difficulties keeping Cenk and Alper under control, ably assisted by the Kurd, whose size alone is threat enough for Cenk. But then, the big man disappears without a trace, even though some crew members admit to seeing his shadow. So it’s time for Cenk, who like Alper, is suffering from withdrawal symptoms, to force open the medicine cabinet. But somehow a curse has befallen the crew.

DOP Gokhan Tiryaki (who photographed Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s One Upon a Time in Anatolia), choses the usual Turkish  widescreen mode to underline the eeriness of the situation which echoes The Day of the Triffids. Karacelik leaves it open as to whether the crew are hallucinating for rest of the drama, but explanations are irrelevant: what happens is really horrific, particularly after the stark realism if the first 80 minutes. A haunting original soundtrack by Ahmet Kenan Bilgic and a very strong cast helps to make IVY into one of the few films were the fear factor is really tangible – made all the more horrific because of its suddenness. AS

IVy won the best feature at this year’s EAST END FILM FESTIVAL | 1 – 12 JULY 2015

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Gittiler ‘Sair ve Mechul’ | Gone: The other and Unknown | LTFF 2015

GONE THE OTHER AND UNKNOWNWriter| Director: Kenan Korkmaz

Cast: Oyku Peksel, Sonya Akay, Yuhannun Akay, Selin Koseoglu, Ruhi Sari

97min  Drama   Turkish with English subs

Kenan Korkmaz’s second feature is a doomladen affair that follows two Assyrian brothers who realise that their stateless ethnicity will always marginalise them, both at home and abroad. After their father, a village headman, comes under threat of attack, the brothers go their separate ways: Yuhan (Yuhannun Akay) stays in rural Turkey whilst Joseph (Savas Ozdemir) goes to Sweden.

Expertly filmed on the widescreen and in close-up, Korkmaz’s ethereal visuals are enhanced by a poignant folkloric score: There is an evocative scene early on where we see Yuhan driving towards the camera in one side of the frame while cattle run beside the car on the other side, this effective visual device is repeated throughout. But Korkmaz’s film adopts a crass and heavy-handed case for the underdog rather than allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions on the plight of these stateless, but well-grounded people, with their close family links, farming and animal husbandry skills in the sweeping landscapes of Anatolia. That said, the sheer beauty and imagination of the f ilm’s visual poetry make the first segment a watchable and engaging look at these ancient East Semitic people, whose origins lay in Mesopotamia.

It emerges that Yuhan (Yuhannun Akay) feels hard done by in the local cheese seller and resents his kids watching Turkish language TV and studying Islam at school. As Christian orthodox, they feel that their small church is dwarfed by the towering mosque. He is even seen crying at one point, out of sheer despair at his plight – although he has decent a family life with his wife Sonya, a car and a roof over his head. His only apparent hardship is caring for his family and father (Iso Akay) – whose role as village leader he will eventually have to take up. His wife Sonya (Sonya Akay), is forced to deal with both of these miserable men.

The Stockholm-set second half introduces us to his brother Joseph, and is again concerned with playing up themes of exploitation and victimisation with frequent references to xenophobia in the Swedish News channels. Despite having lived in Sweden for more than ten years and fluent in Swedish, Joseph too appears disenfranchised – living alone and with few friends. And when he does forge a link with the recently-arrived countryman Aziz (Ruhi Sari) they soon fall out over an imagined slight with a racist element in a local bar. To ramp up the negativity, we are also treated to TV news footage of the Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Brevik, who was responsible for the childrens’ camp massacre in 2011. Meanwhile, back in Turkey, Yuhan is still bemoaning his lot with a ‘grass is always greener’ perception of his brother’s life.

Animals are very much part of this dour docudrama, showing their importance in Assyrian life and culture. A trapped pigeon imprisoned in Yuhan’s house seems to symbolise his pent-up feelings of isolation, whilst Joseph tries to kill his goldfish (later saving it) in his Stockholm apartment – he also works with animals – in a fish factory.

GONE is filled with mournful images and utter desperation. While the Assyrians’ struggle certainly merits representation and recognition, Korkmaz shoots himself in the foot with this over-dour and melodramatic attempt to garner our sympathy. MT


Song of My Mother | Klama Dayika Min | LTFF 2015 |

11140380_1010029955674640_977008820429158815_nDirector: Erol Mintaş

Writer: Erol Mintaş

Cast: Feyyaz Duman, Zübeyde Ronahi, Nesrin Cavadzade

Turkey/France/Germany Drama 103 min 2014

The diasporic, purgatorial character of the present-day Kurdish identity is both the forefront and subtext of SONG OF MY MOTHER (KLAMA DAYIKA MIN), writer-director Erol Mintaş’ subtly layered, digestibly low-key feature debut in which Ali (Feyyaz Duman), a primary school teacher, lives in Istanbul with his mother Nigar (Zübeyde Ronahi), who longs to return to her home village in south-east Turkey. The film picked up the top gong when it premiered at Sarajevo Film Festival last August, and deservingly won the Golden Olive Tree at Lecce’s Festival del Cinema Europeo last week—where it bested nine other films in the Official Competition.

Kurdish identity is an inherently politicised subject matter today, concerning as it does the 40 million Kurdish people who live under conditions that effectively deny them political autonomy: Kurdistan is a geo-cultural region, not a recognised nation, spanning southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran. SONG OF MY MOTHER begins in 1992, in Turkish Kurdistan, when masked men of the local gendarmerie kidnap Ali during a school lesson; events thereafter take place in 2013, years after his forced relocation. The reason why this accomplished film appears to be both direct and subtle is in the way it strips its protagonist’s life to an unvarnished, almost neo-realist minimalism, so that the deeper traumas simmer at the edges. Indeed, Mintaş is seemingly attuned to the fact that the existential and cultural crises that stem from enforced displacement don’t necessarily manifest themselves in explicit ways—and yet in some way they determine much of what constitutes everyday life.

To this end, Mintaş opts for a narrative style that is both naturalist and poetic—the former perhaps embodied best by Ali’s pregnant girlfriend Zeynep (Nesrin Cavadzade), and the latter by Nigar, whose increasing anxiety to return home gives the film its most visibly politicised thrust. Though the film risks confusing international audiences less familiar with the Kurdish plight, one can’t deny Mintaş the right to cut straight to the point—from 1992 to 2013—and though it might be overstating maters to refer to those many films that take viewers’ familiarity something like 9/11 for granted, Mintaş’ trust in his audience to do some of the work themselves is quietly refreshing and wholly justified. Though the film doesn’t state it, some 378,000 Kurdish villagers were left homeless inside Turkish borders alone in the 1990s, when forces seeking to quell the Kurdistan Workers’ Party upped their efforts to coerce locals into pledging allegiances to the Turkish government.

A film of this ilk needs compelling direction and performances—so that its verisimilitude can carry both the potentially oblique politicism and the folkloric feel of the simple narrative structure. Working with cinematographer George Chiper-Lillemark, Mintaş opts for a clear, unfussy palette and the gentle handheld adds an obvious but by no means overstated sense of restlessness to the characters’ respective ongoing predicaments. As much of the film’s scenes take place in the close confines of low-rent domesticity, director and DoP do well to keep things relatively unintrusive, filming performers in medium-long shots to allow for a fuller bodily expression—a style always welcome when more and more filmmakers are mistaking verité-style close-ups for genuine intimacy.

Under Mintaş’ direction, the cast knows that less is more—but a crucial strength of the film is the director’s own script, which eschews the dreary non-committal pseudo-poetics of many festival-bound pictures in favour of characters who actually talk to one another. As Ali, a man burdened with ties to the past and apprehension regarding the future, Duman must have an empathetic quality at the same time as appearing plausibly prone to indecision or even cowardice—as exemplified most when he asks a doctor about abortion options without having asked first discussed it with Zeynep.

Such cowardice—if it is that—isn’t Ali’s sole defining quality, and where SONG OF MY MOTHER really excels is in its refusal to judge, and its efforts to contextualise, its protagonist’s actions. A large part of such context has to do with geography. As key as its indoor conversations are, the film carries a vivid, anchoring sense of place when depicting Istanbul’s Tarlabaşı neighbourhood, the area of 20,000 square metres to which Kurds migrated en masse during the 1990s. MICHAEL PATTISON

The London Turkish Film Festival 7 -17 May 2015 | REVIEWS ON OTHER TITLES IN THE FESTIVAL 

Until I lose My Breath (2015) | Nefesim Kesilene Kadar | LTFF 2015

Writer/Director: Emine Emel Balci

Cast: Esme Madra, Riza Akin, Gizem Denizci, Sema Kecik

94min  Drama  Turkish with subtitles

In poor district of Istanbul Emine Emel Balci’s sure-footed feature debut, UNTIL I LOSE MY BREATH, follows a driven young woman, Dardennes-style. Senap (Esme Madra) is holding down a low-paid job in a garment factory, with little support from her friends or sister and brother in law, who only care about her contribution to the rent. Clearly Serap, is no fool and planning for better things; saving every Lira she can to pay for an apartment she’s hoping to share with her dad, Musatafa (Riza Akin), who has little regard for his youngest daughter, having already abandoned her as a child. Serap is quite keen on Yusuf (Ugur Uzunel), one of the factory delivery boys who often drives by to shoot the breeze with his mates and Seraps’s co-worker Dilber (Gizem Denizci), under the watchful glare of their draconian boss Sultan (Sema Kecik).

There’s nothing particularly new about this well-crafted and watchable tale of modern Turkey that shows our heroine as a diligent worker who is serious and emotionally unreachable in view of the negative experience that life has dealt her thus far. What emerges is a society where women compete with each other, desperate to escape to a better life abroad. We learn that Musatafa is a traditional male who is looking to a plaint female to take care of him, until the next one comes along.

One briefly joyful scene stands out – where Senap goes on a fairground rollercoaster but ends up vomiting into a waste bin: its almost as if women here are destined not to have any pleasure without pain in a place which is distinguishable only by its dismal streets, sunless skies and over-bearing disreputable males, seen through Murat Tuncel melancholy visuals.

Esme Madra’s debut turn as Serap shows promise as an actor who could well bloom and flourish in other more ambitious roles. MT


Eye Am (2014) | GÖZÜMÜN NURU | LTFF 2015

Dir.: Hakki Kurtulus, Melik Saracoglu;

Cast: Melik Saracoglu, Bilgin Saracoglu, Ismail Saracoglu, Öykü Altuntas

Turkey/France 2013, 78 min.

Co-directors Kurtulus and Saracoglu (Orada) have found an original way to tackle a serious topic: Melik Saracoglu’s serious eye condition, which might of condemned him to a life of blindness, having already lost the sight in one eye as a teenager.

After a quick de-brief of his childhood, the autobiographical narrative starts in Lyon, were Melik is studying film. He soon becomes aware of the retinal detachment in his only functional eye, and has to return hastily to Istanbul for an operation, which involves a convalescence of forty days lying on his stomach, taking endless medication. His close family: mother Bilgin, father Ismail and his brother, had to keep an eye on him during the night, in case he slept on his back. His girlfriend Öykü – who had only just recently been joking that she would scratch his eyes out if Melik if responded to romantic advances from a French girl Elodie,  joins in the family vigil. After the retina starts detaching itself again during a family dinner; a second, even more complex operation is needed, and Melik sinks into depression. In his vivid nightmares he meets a producer, an actress and a critic, who reject him.

EYE AM is shot in an anamorphic format (shooting widescreen on 35 mm non widescreen native aspect ratio), which is a perfect way of demonstrating the shattering world of Melik, unable to find a way to live in a world where sounds become overwhelmingly threatening, while the darkness closes in. Melik’s own voiceover explains the panic, particularly when he nearly loses his sight completely after the first operation: “welcome to the longest night of my life” he comments, fearing the worst. But EYE AM is also subversive, using clips from Turkish melodrama to illustrate his blindness. And Melik’s grandfather’s welcome sense of humour cuts through the horrendous pain Melik is going through, with his witty remarks, which are sometimes totally off the mark. The directors also make fun of the the rivalry between the various members of his family and their middle class attitudes that are full of hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

EYE AM is innovative and original and feels authentic in its effort to balance aesthetics with a humane message. It is perhaps too much to call it a feel-good movie, but the director manage to offer us a sparkling blend of nightmarish scenarios and brilliant visuals that are always refreshing, despite the grim subject matter. AS


Sivas (2014)

Director|Writer: Kaan Müdjeci | Cast: Dogan Izci, Okan Avci, Cakir, Ozan Celik, Ezgi Ergin, Banu Fotocan | Drama  Turkish with subtitles

Kaan Mujdeci’s brave feature debut has a fresh and feral feel to it, but don’t expect a shaggy dog story: this is about the powerful Kangal breed of working mountain dogs who are fierce and fearless in their work of protecting cattle and guarding the local farming folk who occupy this remote part of Turkey.

Set amidst the masculine world of dog-fighting in the wild open landscapes of eastern Anatolia, this stunningly photographed coming of age tale is about a boy of eleven with a strong personality despite his tender years. And it’s an astonishing performance for Dogan Izci, who plays Aslan, the boy in question. He has more ‘attitude’ and bravado than most adult men (we see him chucking stones at his father), yet he is still a child with his blue and white-collared school uniform peeping over his anorak. (Aslan appropriately means Lion in Turkish). His mutt, the eponymous SIVAS, whom he rescues from a savage local dog-fight, is named after one of the local cities in the region.

Mudjeci’s hand-held camera sketches out the the daily life of the village where Aslan lives with his parents and older brother, Sahin (Ozan Celik). A competitive and feisty character, Aslan considers it his right to play the principal part in the school production of Snow White, and yet there is still a cute vulnerability to his inchoate machismo: he has already an eye for the local girls, particularly Ayse (Ezgi Ergin) who has won the part of the Princess in the play.

But as the story develops, a more sinister vibe creeps in as the cruel and heartless world of dog-fighting is explored through Sivas’s meetings with other local kangal dogs. This is a serious sport. If these people lived on an estate in London, they would probably have ‘no fear’ tattooed across their muscled chests and own pit-bulls, but this is primitive rural Anatolia and Mudjeci gives the impression of a harsh, yet close-knit community where men are men and women remain behind closed doors. Although in reality some dogs will lose their lives, we are assured that this doesn’t happen during filming.

Eventually Aslan’s accompanies the older members of the village, including the head honcho (Muttalip Mujdeci), to the ‘National Championships’ of illegal dog-fighting in nearby Ankara. And this where the tone becomes more sinister and less intimate, the camera shifting into widescreen mode to capture the dangerous fights as darkness falls over the Anatolian countryside, lit only by roaring firelight as the macho crowd cheer noisily into the night. MT




Thou Gild’st the Even | Sen Aydinlatirsin Geceyi (2013) | LTFF 2015

Director|Writer: Onur Unlu

Cast: Ali Atay, Tansu Bicer, Cengiz Bozkurt, Asil Buyukozcelik, Demet Eygar

107mins  Fantasy Drama   Turkish with subtitles

Man is Created By Anxiety – Euripides

Taking its name from Shakespeare’s 28th Sonnet, THOU GILD’ST THE EVEN (Sen Aydinlatirsin Geceyi) garnered Best Film, Best Script, Best Editing and FIPRESCI Awards at the National competition strand at Istanbul Film Festival this year.

Elegantly shot in pristine black and white, Onur Ünlü’s obsurdist drama unspools as a series of satirical and poetic contemplations on the human condition. Blending fairytales with touches of surrealism and poetic realism and whimsical observations explored through the daily life of a melancholy barber in a Turkish village, it is a curio may enchants or amuse or even irritate.

Cemal (Ali Atay) lives with his fathe, having lost his mother and siblings in a fire. His neighbours are a doctor, an invisible teacher and a girl who can control time with the clap of her hands.  Ünlü tries his hand at a range of special effects to tell his story – from slow mo, jump cuts and even back projection – the result is clever and effective for the most part and his ironic sense of humour adds a much needed levity to Cemal’s moody demeanour and mournful existence dwelling, for the most part, on negativity.

The film’s whimsical approach will appeal to devoted arthouse and festival audiences but those looking for a traditional drama may lose track of its endless flights into reverie and occasionally slow-paced narrative – this is essentially an everyday story of the trials, tribulations, occasional joys and passions of everyday life but told in an enchanting way. MT.




Kirimli | Crimean (2014) |

Director: Burak Arliel

Writers: Atilla Unsal, Nil Unsal, Gulec, Cengiz Dagici (novel)

Cast: Murat Yildirm, Bulent Alkis, Ali Barkin, Selma Ergec, Suavi Eren, Baki Davrak Burc Kumbetlioglu, Joshy Peters

114min   War Drama     Turkish with Subtitles

A tale of suffering by Crimean Turks during WWII is expertly-crafted but derailed by an 0ver-elevated and unconvincing narrative.  

Burak Ariel’s first film The Turkish Passport, told how Turkish Jews were saved from the clutches of the Nazis by diplomats during WWII. In CRIMEANTurkish Crimean patriots, captured by the Nazis, are given the chance to liberate their homeland from occupying Russian forces, on condition that they fight alongside the Germans.

Loosely based on Crimean writer Cengiz Dagici’s novel, ‘Kurkunc Yillar’, this fractured narrative stars popular Turkish actor Murat Yildirim as heroic Lieutenant Sadik Turan whose tale unfolds on various battlefields as he deftly shifts sides in a bid to defend Crimea, his compatriots, and the woman he loves.

We first meet our hero in the early 1920s when Russian soldiers burst into his Crimean primary school marking the start of the Soviet regime in the region. Although Sadik protests “You will never take our freedom” the soldiers ignore the teenager in the first of many lucky escapes. Jumping forward twenty years, Sadik is dapperly clad in Nazi uniform aboard a train travelling through Poland. Seated opposite him is a Polish woman, Maria Kosecki (Selma Ergec), who is pretending to be German. In fluent Turkish (she lived in Istanbul for several years) she questions Sadik about his uniform and the two fall into easy conversation amid flashing eyes and light-hearded flirting, marking the start of an enduring love affair that strangely fails to move anyone but themselves.

As the narrative jumps backwards and forwards, we see Sadik in various acts of derring-do. Fighting with the Soviets against the Nazis, he is then captured and imprisoned in a camp where Herr Lieutenant Bauer (Baki Davrak with strangely-dyed hair) holds sway, looking like a nasty German version of Toby Jones. Amid the daily round of torture and atrocities, Sadik hatches an escape plan with his fellow-inmate Mustafa (Bulent Alkis) where, switching sides, he takes on a Nazi guise. The only problem with Sadik, as portrayed in Arliel’s heroic treatment, is his authenticity as a living, breathing man: Throughout all this strife and mental turmoil, he constantly emerges unflustered and unruffled, a suave and chivalrous Crimean hero and yet somehow an unconvincing person. Maria too, is rather a one-dimensional character; appearing initially as if she wouldn’t say boo to a goose and latterly as a modern day Boudicea. Both these characters are sadly underwritten, making their plight and relationship completely unaffecting, despite quite decent performances. Sadik will next meet Maria, a year later in Poland where she is fighting for the resistance movement. Together, they hatch a plan to overthrow the local German occupying force and after taking their romance a stage further, by spending a night together,  it all ends in tears amidst the sacrifice of a melodramatic meltdown.

Clearly, Arliel was looking to make a rousing and heroic epic to satisfy his Turkish Crimean fans but despite Feza Caldiran’s magnificent cinematography, some remarkable set-pieces on the battlefield and the casting of two of Turkey’s biggest screen stars, the narrative fails to do battle with the deeply complex moral, ethnic and psychological aspects of this wartime saga, making the only tragedy here one of missed opportunity. Turkish audiences will delight however at seeing Murat Kildirim in fine form. MT


Come to my Voice | Were Denge Min (2013) | LTFF 2015

Dir: Huseyin Karabey

Cast: Feride Gezer, Melek Ulger, Tuncay Akdemir, Bahri Hakan

Turkey/France/Germany 2014, 105 min.

Set in the magnificent landscape near Lake Van in Southeast Turkey, Huseyin Karabey (My Marlon and Brando) tells a simple, but beautifully-crafted tale about repression, liberation and the power of storytelling. A Kurdish village is gathering around a bard, to hear the story which unfolds as the film. At the same time, Berfe (Gezer) tells her granddaughter Jiyan (Ulger) the story of the fox, who lost his tail – his pride and joy. Just when she starts talking about the many tasks the fox has to perform to regain his tail, Turkish soldiers, under the leadership of a sadistic captain, raid the village, demanding to be handed over weapons, in the village’s “secret” arsenal. But it emerges that this is ploy of a jealous informer, no weapons are found, and the men are taken to prison, among them Berfe’s son Temo (Akdemir). Soon it becomes clear, that the soldiers are looking for free weapons, in exchange for the imprisoned men, so that they can sell them for profit. Neither Jiyan’s plastic pistols nor Berfe’s father’s old rifle are deemed acceptle , and after trying her luck with a smuggler, Berfe travels with her granddaughter to the nearest city, to visit her relatives. There she steals a revolver, and with the help of travelling group of blind bards, led by Casim (Hakan), they smuggle the weapon through the many control points. When the two come home, a surprise awaits them.

Karabey’s inventive structure is fascinating, the story of the fox, told in many instalments, is a parallel story to Berfe’s struggle to find a weapon, to free her son. We can imagine, how further generations will hear the story of Berfe’s adventures with her granddaughter. This sense of history binds the villagers together, their collective memory much stronger than the blunt, simplistic and brutal approach of the Turkish soldiers. All families have either dead or imprisoned members, mistrust of the Turkish occupiers is everywhere. But the Kurds, personified by Berfe and Jiyan, use the stunning landscape to their advantage, they become a part of the wild and beautiful terrain. There are long stretches in Come to my Voice, where not a word is spoken, but the power of the images does not need much explanation, and the majority of the dialogue is short and up to the point. Anne Misselwitz’ camera is always gliding over the terrain; then, in gentle curves coming down to show the impressive faces of the actors, some like Gezer, being amateurs. A very impressive, touching but never sentimental film, which tells a rich and varied folk tale. AS


19th London Turkish Film Festival 2014

Celebrating its 19th year, the London Turkish film festival brings new films from Turkey. Six will compete for the coveted GOLDEN WINGS LTFF Distribution Award, which last year went to THE BUTTERFLY’S DREAM.  The programme this year will include Alphan Eseli’s magnificent First World War drama THE LONG WAY HOME, also a fitting tribute to this year’s 1914 centenary celebrations.




Somewhere in Between | Araf (2013) | London Turkish Film Festival 2013

Director/Writer: Yesim UstaogluCast: Neslihan Atagul, Baris Hachihan, Ozcan Deniz, Nihal Yalcin, Yesemin Conka

124mins *** Drama Turkish with subtitles

Another Anatolian story this time set in contemporary Karabuk, an industrial town that seems an appropriate location for its title, literally meaning in between heaven and hell or limbo. Yesim Ustaoglu tells her story of frustrated dreams and hopes in the middle of a snowswept winter where two young people are stuck in dead-end jobs with grueling schedules and long commutes.

Yesim Ustaoglu is a well-known filmmaker in Turkey and has had success with previous features Pandora’s Box (2008) and Waiting For The Clouds (2003) both focus on the human condition seen through difficult circumstances.

Here in Araf, Zehra (Neslihan Atagul) and Olgun (Baris Hacihan) are drawn to each other, attraction serves as an antidote to their monotonous lives. Then Zehra meets Mahur (Ozcan Deniz) at a wedding and the two become close but face considerable problems due to societal pressures. What follows is an unflinching portrait of a woman trapped in time and place with little choice or personal freedom. As Zehra, Atagul’s is convincing and believable as she scales the highs and lows of her emotions in this cultural backwater.

Yesim Ustaoglu is undoubtedly a talented filmmaker. That said, her latest film is too long and tonally monotonous to sustain such emotionally demanding subject matter. Araf would have had more impact with the benefit of judicious editing and tighter scripting with the inclusion of some lighter moments to contrast with the gloom. MT


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