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'Siyah Beyaz': Where everybody knows your name

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/30/2010 12:00:00 AM | EMRAH GÜLER

A revered name in Turkey’s film industry, Ahmet Boyacıoğlu’s directorial debut, ‘Siyah Beyaz’ (Black and White) pays tribute to dry, but inspirational capital city of Ankara through its oldest night haunt, giving the movie its name. The hall of fame that is the cast and crew make the film a tribute to Boyacıoğlu himself

There are a handful of Turks equivalent to the baby boomer generation, the artistic elite who refuse to leave Turkey’s dry, but inspirational capital city Ankara. And for them, there are two names associated with Ankara: Ahmet Boyacıoğlu and Siyah Beyaz.

Boyacıoğlu is a revered name, a legend in his own right for film enthusiasts in Turkey. He’s the founder of the Ankara Cinema Association and organizer of the traveling film festival, Festival on Wheels; a former representative of Turkey in Eurimages and a crucial name in Turkey’s Golden Boll Film Festival. Being the movie buff, Boyacıoğlu is an unfaltering judge in many festivals and covers various international film festivals for the daily Radikal.

Located in one of the most central yet isolated places in Ankara, Siyah Beyaz (Black and White) has been a fixture in the capital’s nightlife, nearly as old as modern Ankara. It’s an art gallery and bar frequented by the baby boomers, some of them taking their daily dose of alcohol everyday in the bar for decades.

Decorated with over a thousand framed photos of national and international actors, directors, writers, and journalists, Siyah Beyaz is one of those places where everybody really knows your name. That is, if you are over 40. The owner Faruk Sade is well aware of the age range of his clientele. Among younger generations, the bar is referred to by some as the “prostate bar” or the “dinosaur bar.”

[HH] Life crises come after ‘The Funeral’

Ahmet Boyacıoğlu crowns his many roles as a movie buff now as a feature director. Following his award-winning short film, “Cenaze Töreni” (The Funeral) of 2001, he does much more than pay tribute to Siyah Beyaz, and gives the bar a central place in his directorial debut, “Siyah Beyaz.”

The bar shares the screen with another dear friend of Boyacıoğlu, the city of Ankara. Long, nostalgic shots of Ankara’s old streets and buildings are scattered throughout the movie lovingly. The film begins with the shot of a familiar street, a familiar building. The serenity of the scene is abruptly interrupted with a man falling from one the top floors of the building, apparently an attempt at a suicide.

This isolated scene defines the tone of the movie. Death, the approach of death, and life crises haunt you throughout the movie, even in the relatively lighter scenes. The protagonists of the movie are five lonely people at different stages in their lives and have become a dysfunctional family of sorts as regulars at the bar.

Tuncel Kurtiz plays Ahmet Nihat, the oldest of the group, a painter who is still holding onto the remnants of communist ideology – a major life force in his younger days. Being the oldest, he’s the wisest, the most driven in holding onto life and the mediator among the other four. Nejat İşler is the doctor, the only person without a name in the group and the alter ego of Boyacıoğlu (a surgeon of 20 years before quitting and following his heart in movies). Cast against the type, İşler breaks his heartthrob persona for a workaholic, mellow doctor who has lost his spark and can’t even find the energy to wallow over his wife leaving him.

[HH] A tribute by and for Boyacıoğlu

Another big name, Erkan Can plays Muzaffer, an attorney who has retired following a heart attack, and who can afford his older lifestyle through a family inheritance. He’s stuck in his past, with memories of his university sweetheart who went onto pursue life 25 years ago. Apart from the regulars and owner of the bar, his best friend is a pet snail that he carries regularly to the bar. The only woman in the group is Ayten (Şevval Sam), a driven career woman who lets her frustrations loose with a drink or two after hours.

The last member of the group is the owner of the bar, Faruk (Taner Birsel), based loosely on the real owner who has a cameo as a regular in a couple of scenes. He’s the only person among the group who’s connected to the outside world, as owning and running a bar would make it necessary. The central plot of the film comes through an announcement by Faruk as he tells his friends and customers that he’s planning to sell the place and leave Ankara.

However “Siyah Beyaz” is not a plot-driven movie, and works more like a compilation of human stories and a tribute to Ankara. As Boyacıoğlu said, “the film is about loneliness, growing old, friendship, solidarity, and that special bond you feel for Ankara.”

The film can also be called a tribute to Ahmet Boyacıoğlu, and how he’s respected by the film industry in Turkey. The cast is basically a hall of fame, including veteran actors, stage actors, and names from the popular new generation. Director Özcan Alper, who impressed the audience and the critics alike with his debut feature “Sonbahar” (Autumn), takes his place aside Boyacıoğlu as the assistant director. The cinematographer Özgür Eken, responsible for the beautiful photography in Semih Kaplanoğlu’s “Yumurta” (Egg) and “Süt” (Milk), places his camera over the old bar. Here’s hoping that Boyacıoğlu doesn’t wait another decade for his second feature.

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