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
PREMIERED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2014