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'The Son' looks harrowingly at fathers and sons

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 10/16/2011 12:00:00 AM | EMRAH GÜLER

Director and writer Atilla Cengiz’s ‘Oğul’ (The Son) tackles war in southeastern Turkey through two fathers’ tragedy. While the story feels half-baked at times, the film reflects the grim atmosphere of war.

As the deliberate attempts to remove taboo status from the guerilla war in the southeast Turkey brought new rights and initiatives for the freedom for the Kurds, Turkish cinema immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

Mainstream cinema, exemplified most famously by Mahsun Kırmızıgül’s “Güneşi Gördüm” (I Saw the Sun), opted for the safe road of being more sympathetic and less condemning towards the past. A number of Kurdish filmmakers, on the other hand, offered an independent Turkish cinema, more fresh and aiming straight at the heart of the issues. Hüseyin Karabey, Kazım Öz and Özgür Doğan are notable filmmakers coming from a background of documentary and docu-drama.

This week’s “Oğul” (The Son) falls closer to the second category, offering a uniquely heartbreaking story and a promising new director, despite the shortcomings of the film. “Oğul” is director and writer Atilla Cengiz’s debut feature. Aficionados of the Turkish TV series will know some of Cengiz’s work as director and assistant director from TV in projects like “Hayat Apartmanı” (The Apartment of Life) and “Aşk Yeniden” (Love Again).

The film tells of the tragedies of the war through the eyes of two fathers, from two distinctive regions of Turkey: one from a town of Giresun, a city in the Black Sea region, the other from Tunceli, a small southeastern city at the heart of the conflict.

Soner, played by Enes Atış, is an eighteen-year-old boy in the heat of young love. When he sees that the object of his affection, a seasonal worker from Tunceli harvesting nuts in his region, hasn’t arrived this season, he sets on a journey to find her.

Story of two fathers

Leaving his hometown for the first time, his bus is stopped in the middle of nowhere by security forces. Soner is told to go back home as the region is no place for a tourist trip. Left at a crossroads, he continues his journey in a truck carrying workers.

The truck is involved in an accident, triggering a set of events that somehow cross the paths of Soner, Soner’s father and Musa, a father from Tunceli whose son had left home to join the guerillas up the mountains. Musa, played by Rıza Akın made famous by director Tayfun Pirselimoğlu’s now-classic “Rıza,” is forced to present his son to the security to show that he’s not in the mountains with the guerillas.

“Oğul” sets out as a road movie, only to change direction after the first half hour into something different, something harrowing. It would be no spoiler to tell that the boys are dead in the beginning, and the movie becomes the story of the two fathers, the peak coming in a scene where they meet in a cemetery.

The scene in the cemetery shows the power of the story and what the movie that could have been, only to leave the audience empty and confused as to how the story unfolds. The minimalist scenes with long shots help set the grim atmosphere of the movie, but leave the story half-baked, making the audience long for a more satisfying turn of events and room for character development.

Screened at India’s International Chennai Film Festival and Mumbai International Film Festival, and popular at the Montreal World Film Festival last summer, “Oğul” definitely proves to be a promising film by a new director.

Cengiz said he was drawn to this story because peace is the love we feel towards someone else’s life, while being stripped off all anxieties, preconceptions and judgments. “As a director, when I wanted to tell a story about this country, I found many stories. I have chosen this story, because I believe what we need the most is peace,” he said. The film might have its shortcomings, but Cengiz’s heart is in the right place.

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