ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Director Mehmet Ada Öztekin’s debut feature, ‘Mahmut ile Meryem’ (Mahmut and Meryem), has all the makings of a box-office success. An epic star-crossed love story set in the 16th century might just be the ideal film for both moviegoers and TV aficionados
The story hits the right notes with an audience that lets its nationalistic steam off by reimagining historical glory right out of school history books.
It seems you can’t really go wrong with the recent epic romantic release “Mahmut ile Meryem” (Mahmut and Meryem). The film plays to the rising nationalist sentiments in Turkey’s pop culture in more ways than one, with its story, genre and production details. It’s a star-crossed story of young love, a winner at the Turkish box office in most cases. The cast and crew are made up of names that would appeal both to the young audience and the mainstream audience that is glued to their TV sets every night for the plethora of popular shows.
Here is why “Mahmut ile Meryem” is the ideal movie project, guaranteed to fill the theaters: The story is set in the early 16th century in the now-Azeri city of Ganja, a city that has a volatile history, having been governed by everyone from the Ottomans to the Mongols, Seljuks and Safavids. Historical drama has been the go-to genre both for screen and TV in the last decade.
A respectable number of popular movies in recent years have been historical dramas, perhaps best exemplified by the box-office smash “Fetih 1453” (The Conquest 1453), an epic tale of the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans from the Byzantines. And a respectable number among these carry several shades of blatant nationalism and racism.
Others, like the hit TV series “Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (Magnificent Century), a salacious telling of the power games in the court of Süleyman the Magnificent, hope to capture the void in Turkish TV created by such international TV phenomena like “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey.” Half-a-century-old comic books are adapted to the screen just because the hero, Karaoğlan, is a young Turkic man riding his horse and carrying his sword during the reign of Genghis Khan in 12th century Central Asia.
Muslim boy falls for Christian girl
With its story and setting, “Mahmut ile Meryem” hits the right notes with an audience that lets its nationalistic steam off by reimagining historical glory right out of school history books. On another front, the film hits other notes through its production details. “The film is an adaptation of a famous Azeri novel of three decades, written by the now deputy prime minister of Azerbaijan, Elchin Afandiyev.
The film is a Turkish-Azeri joint production, likely to draw an audience that has been impressed by the Turkish government’s self-proclaimed position as the leader of the Turkic states.
Like every other epic love story, the title puts the names of the boy and the girl together. The boy, Mahmut, is the heir to the throne of Ganja. Unlike his power-crazy father, Mahmut’s gentler, more humanist side makes him averse to power, and hence to the throne.
Like every other epic love story, Mahmut falls for the girl who is the epitome of conflict and danger. The devoted Muslim that he is, Mahmut falls for the daughter of a Christian monk, Meryem. The fathers-in-law are not impressed with the blossoming of this young love for reasons of religious incompatibility, the succession of the throne and other complications on a similar scale. The film then steers toward a fantastic road movie that might look interesting on paper, but looks too contrived and stiff on screen.
“Mahmut and Meryem” is the debut feature of Mehmet Ada Öztekin, who is an experienced TV director, the helm behind this season’s arguably most popular TV drama, “Kuzey Güney.” Mahmut is played by a popular TV actor, Aras Bulut İynemli. Although both of these names should guarantee an appeal to the TV audience, İynemli hardly manages to get out of his TV persona, and the chemistry with his co-star, Eva Dedova, hardly fires the screen. Öztekin might pass the test in his debut feature, but the passion and energy in his TV work is lacking in “Mahmut ile Meryem.” The feeling often is that he did not enjoy making this movie. That said, the audience is already intact for the movie, and it’s quite likely that they will carry it to box-office success.