Shadows, faces and long-forgotten neighbors dominate new Turkish film
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/19/2011 12:00:00 AM | EMRAH GÜLER
Like his other films, Turkish Cypriot filmmaker Derviş Zaim takes a motif from traditional Turkish arts, the Karagöz shadow play, and incorporates it into his heartbreaking tale of the origin of inter-communal clashes between Turks and Greeks in Cyprus. ‘Shadows and Faces’ is a sad film that knows that peace doesn’t appear likely to appear anytime soon
When Turkish cinema began undergoing a revival in the mid-1990s, it was thanks to a handful of names that took a stalling cinema out of its stupor and raised the bar to an international scale.
One of these names was director-writer Derviş Zaim who had wowed critics and audiences both domestically and internationally with his inspiring debut feature, “Tabutta Rövaşata” (Somersault in a Coffin). The story of the unforgettable antihero Mahsun, the homeless car thief, broke our hearts and went on to win four awards at Turkey’s Golden Orange Film Festival, including one for Best Film, as well as international awards in San Francisco, Thessaloniki and Turin.
Zaim is one of the few names in Turkish cinema who has established himself as a true auteur with six feature films since 1996. He is a master storyteller who doesn’t choose substance over style or style over substance since he blends both in what could be called a type of filmmaking that is uniquely his own. His incredible insight into the intricate dynamics of Turkey’s changing social structure and its history has given us some of the most powerful films on the people of Turkey and its recent history.
Most of Zaim’s films share his signature style of incorporating traditional Turkish forms of art – many that have effectively already been confined to history – as strong motifs that define his cinema. In “Filler ve Çimen” (Elephants and Grass) of 2001, six stories of corruption and the deep state were interlinked to one another through the central motif of “ebru,” or water marbling, the art of coloring water and placing it on fabric. “Cenneti Beklerken” (Waiting for Heaven), released five years later, was a historical drama about a master miniature artist, placing the aesthetics of miniature in the center of the film. And his “Nokta” (Dot) of two years ago featured the traditional Ottoman art form of calligraphy as a backdrop to a thriller set in Central Anatolia.
[HH] When they lived together in peace
In his most recent offering, “Gölgeler ve Suretler” (Shadows and Faces), he uses the Karagöz shadow play of the Ottoman period as a central motif for a film about Cyprus. Here, Zaim literally and artistically goes home, to Cyprus and to the heart of the unresolved conflict between the Turks and the Greeks on the Mediterranean island. Literally, Zaim goes home because he is a Turkish Cypriot, and artistically, because he has forayed into the Cyprus conflict in the last decade. He co-directed “Parallel Trips” in 2004 with Cypriot director Panicos Chrysanthou, in which the directors from the opposite sides of the divided island told human dramas in the aftermath of the war of 1974 and its reflections today. Zaim later produced Chrysanthou’s feature “Akamas” about a love affair between a Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot in 2006.
In “Gölgeler ve Suretler,” Zaim goes to the very beginning of the conflict between Turks and Greeks in Cyprus, to 1963. In a small village where Turk and Greeks have been living peacefully, things begin to stir when Greeks begin surrounding the villages and driving the Turks away. The film begins with the shadow play master Salih (Erol Refikoğlu) lending his words to one of his puppets while performing a play to his daughter, “Is it possible to be invisible and good at the same time?”
Soon, the two are forced to run away from their village and find refuge in a neighboring village. When the teenaged Ruhsar (Hazar Ergüçlü in a heartbreaking role) loses her father, she finds herself in despair that is alien to her. The escalating inter-communal clash is told mostly from the perspective of Ruhsar, who makes it her priority to find her father under the increasingly oppressive Greek enclosure. She stays with her father’s estranged apprentice, Veli (Osman Alkaş), and gets occasional help from his Greek neighbor, Anna (Popi Avraam), while becoming apprehensive about the woman who epitomizes the oppression that is enveloping her.
Things don’t go for the better as the young Turks and Greeks of the village bring it upon themselves to enact justice (and subsequently a bloody war), at least in their village.
The shadows here are at once the reflections of the puppets on the screen and the reflections of a clash between two nations that long time ago lived together in peace. The faces are the long-forgotten faces of the neighbors that have now become the enemies on the other side. Zaim’s “Suretler ve Gölgeler” is a powerful yet sad film that knows that peace doesn’t appear likely to appear anytime soon.