Kavur (2023) Rotterdam Film Festival 2023

January 28th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Firat Ozeler; Documentary with the voices of Cem Yilmaz, Funda Eryigit; Turkey 2023, 89 min.

A new documentary from Turkey’s Firat Ozeler pays homage to filmmaker Omer Kavur (1944-2005) who directed fourteen feature between 1974 and 2003 before his tragic death from lymphoma. His films were shown in Cannes and Venice, but, rarely – if ever – made it to the UK. The only English speaking retrospective was held at the Harvard Film Archive in 2001, where five features were shown. The film is both a biopic and a travelogue, narrated by Funda Eryigit, it visits the many places Kavur touched during his struggle to build a career. Cam Yilmaz voices Kavur’s own perspective of his life. 

Born in Istanbul in 1944 to wealthy parents who moved in all the right circles but whose marriage eventually broke down, Kavur was sent to a Swiss finishing school to be groomed for success. Clearly he had plenty of love but no home. Paris was the next step where the budding filmmaker studied in the daytime, and worked in a hotel at night. His 1987 feature Motherland Hotel (Anayurt Oteli) is a testament to his three year stint as a night porter – anything to reduce his debt.

An unidentified lover tells about the sadness which engulfed Kavur even in those days: “He was not a happy person”. His return to Istanbul saw the city transformed by  bulldozers and the developers. The old buildings were gone replaced by apartment blocks. Turkish cinema had moved on too and Kavur was dismayed to discover an industry which thrived on porn features. The Sex Life of a Belly Dancer, was a case in point.

Kavur’s own first films were not successful at the box office, and he became withdrawn and reclusive eventually leaving the city of his birth, blaming himself: “I should have adapted, and did what was expected from me”. He was critical of the socialist films of the era, calling them ‘trendy’. His travels next took him to a small Baltic town where the theme of rememberance became an important focus of his maturing style of filmmaking. 

Ozeler makes use of ample archive footage, clips of Kavur’s final feature, Karsilasma shot in 2003, and a video showing him as a deeply troubled man obsessed by death and decay. Plagued by dreams that transported him back to his childhood, Kavur seemed to be continually trying to escape the trauma. The film’s final act sees him reciting a poem with the unnamed woman. When death finally caught up with Kavur, he had come to terms with his life and discovered a certain tranquility, despite being exhausted from illness and therapy. It was like coming home again.

In his debut feature premiering at Rotterdam’s International Film Festival, Ozeler has caught the overriding melancholy of Kavur’s life as an artist who never felt at ease with himself after being sent away from his homeland at an early age. A motif running through his work shows him knocking at doors that will be forever closed, like in Kafka’s “The Castle”. Kavur certainly had his time in the sun as a director on the festival circuit, but he never quite moved with the times. Ozeler portrays his subject with skill and empathy, the travel rumination making an evocative backcloth to the tortured mind of this celebrated Turkish filmmaker. AS


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