The year of politics and thrillers in Turkish cinema
LabirentLast year might not have been the most inspirational one in Turkey’s cinematic history, but it saw the biggest number of movies released in 20 years. There were the obligatory award-winning art house movies, and the mainstream comedies aiming for cheap laughs.
But 2011 was also the year political propaganda gave way to a more refined method of storytelling in regard to Turkey’s recent history. 2011 also saw some directors try their craft in action/thrillers to impressive effect. Here’s a look at some examples of the trends in 2011 films, though there were many more that could have made our list.
Thanks to the efforts of the Turkish government two years ago to begin a larger discussion on the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, the never-ending conflagration found its way into Turkish cinema as well. Examples of independent cinema from Turkish and Kurdish directors went before audiences at festivals, and a few mainstream movies stirred the discussion as well.
However, 2011 became the year in which the Kurdish conflict was no longer the odd subject out but a popular theme that generally refrained from treating the issue via political propaganda. The recent history of southeast Turkey and the ignorance and prejudices of the population in general toward the region became the driving force in some award-winning and popular movies.
Director and writer Sedat Yılmaz’s debut feature, “Press,” took a very real and heart-breaking look at the early 1990s, the darkest time in the armed conflict between the Turkish state and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group according to Turkey and much of the international community. The film followed a group of journalists at the Diyarbakır office of daily Özgür Gündem, the newspaper that was hit with a record 486 lawsuits in its run of two years, a period that included the death of 30 journalists along with 17 distributors and sellers.
In “Oğul” (The Son), director and writer Atilla Cengiz tackled the war in southeastern Turkey through the eyes of two fathers, from two distinctive regions of Turkey: one from the Black Sea province of Giresun and the other from the eastern province of Tunceli, which has been at the heart of the war. The film was one of the first to reflect the misconceptions and prejudices around the war.
Two recent movies took their protagonists to southeast Turkey from as far away as possible to face their ignorance and prejudices – one with a more haunting effect and the other with a lighter tone.
Özcan Alper’s “Gelecek Uzun Süre” (Future Lasts Forever) featured a young woman from Istanbul traveling to the southeastern province of Diyarbakır to collect Anatolian elegies for her thesis, learning about the tragedies of the last three decades along the way. Meanwhile, in Murat Saraçoğlu’s road movie, “Yangın Var” (In Flames), a nationalist truck driver from northern Turkey travels to Diyarbakır yet again, only to fall for a Kurdish woman.
Turkish cinema tries thrillers
Turkish cinema also found itself leaning closer ever to action/thrillers with some examples that were on a par with Hollywood. The recent “Labirent” (Labyrinth) by Tolga Örnek, a director with a unique craft for mainstream cinema, was one of the best spy thrillers to come of Turkish cinema. Inspired by the Istanbul bombing of HSBC in 2003, it brought two agents from Turkish Intelligence face to face with an Islamist fundamentalist terrorist group. Aside from its excellence in special effects, cinematography and editing, the film managed to take Turkish thrillers away from their blatant patriotism and cheap chauvinism.
In another example, “40,” director and writer Emre Şahin brought together three strangers in the underbelly of Istanbul with a mysterious bag full of money. The fast-paced drama defied any genre; reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino movie, the film moved like a mainstream flick yet carried the sensibilities of independent cinema. It was a fresh breath of air and promised a brand-new form of cinema from an award-winning director.
And what are we anticipating in Turkish cinema for 2012? First of all, the first Turkish vampire movie since 1953’s “Drakula Istanbul’da” (Dracula in Istanbul). The film, directed by Mustafa Kenan Aybastı, will take place in 2023 when the country is ruled by the Council of Vampires. The film will bring the ruling vampires face to face with a group of young rebels in Istanbul. The release date is set for April. It seems that the vampires will sink their teeth into Turkish pop culture next year not only with a movie but with an upcoming TV series as well.
This year will also see perhaps the most anticipated remake in Turkish cinema. Director and writer Ümit Ünal’s latest feature, “Nar” (The Pomegranate), is playing at cinemas at the moment. Having written some of the most memorable scripts in Turkish cinema for 25 years, he’s also an award-winning director with his debut feature, “9,” being selected as Turkey’s official entry for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2003.
For many, Ünal is the scribe behind one of the best films Turkish cinema has seen. His first screenplay, “Teyzem” (My Aunt), won daily Milliyet’s Screenplay Competition in 1986 and was later filmed by master Halit Refiğ. Starring Müjde Ar, one of the divas of Turkish cinema, the movie was an instant hit, becoming a classic and the favorite movie of all time for many Turkish cinephiles. Now, “Teyzem” is ready for a reboot, with young actress Şebnem Bozoklu taking Ar’s role and Ünal himself taking the director’s chair.