You can’t go home in Turkish cinema?
Emrah Güler“You can never go home again” might very well be the tagline for many of a Turkish film, but many characters certainly try. Going back to the childhood village from the city is a theme visited and revisited many times in films by Turkish filmmakers.
In this week’s “Bol Şans” (Good Luck), written and directed by Gökhan Yılmaz, the hipster Deniz travels to his village from Istanbul after his father’s death. The film veers from the nostalgia for home or the realization that one has outgrown life in a small town to a blend of half-baked mafia action and a love triangle.
The most recent example that comes to mind on returning from a middle-class urban life in Istanbul to the childhood village after a relative’s death is Senem Tüzen’s award-winner “Ana Yurdu” (Motherland) of 2015. The film follows Esra Bezen Bilgin’s Nesrin going to the village of her deceased grandmother to live a childhood dream and finish her novel. Confrontation with the past, through a mother-daughter relationship, is the overarching story here.
2014’s “Klama Dayika Min / Annemin Şarkısı” (Song of My Mother), written and directed by Erol Mintaş, takes a look at the relationship of a young teacher, Ali, with his mother as she is gripped by a desire to return home, fueled by delusions that her neighbors are returning to their village. The two live in Tarlabaşı, a run-down area of Istanbul, where many Kurdish immigrants have been living since the 1990s.
Every day, the old woman packs her belongings to return home. Her son has to find alternate ways to keep her happy and her mind occupied. The film won more than a dozen awards in national and international festivals, including four awards at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, as well as the best film and actor awards at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
Returning home and reconciling with the past was the major theme of another movie the same year, documentary director Mehmet Eryılmaz’s sophomore feature, “Misafir” (The Visitor). In the film, a young woman returns home along with her little daughter when she hears that her mother is on her deathbed. She was kicked out of her parents’ home a decade ago, and reconciliation is further complicated by allusions of incest.
Past and future lives, childhood and adulthood
In his debut feature, “Ve Panayır Köyden Gider” (And the Circus Leaves Town), writer and director Mete Sözer adds a bit of mystery to the theme of returning to the village by making his protagonist a stranger, played by popular actor Cem Davran. The stranger gets off a train with only a suitcase to be met by the curious glances of the villagers, who are defined by their stilted lives. Naturally, both the strangers and the villagers have secrets.
Themes of birth, death and rebirth are visited with not-so-subtle metaphors in Zekeriya Erdoğan’s 2015 “Çırılçıplak” (Naked). The 75-year-old female protagonist in the film takes on two traditional occupations simultaneously, acting as the midwife and the washer of the dead. She travels back and forth from the city to the village, with her little granddaughter by her side. Going back home and returning to a new life, life and death, youth and old age are all questioned haphazardly in a story with no direction.
One of the finer examples of Turkish cinema touching on the return home is 2014’s “Deniz Seviyesi” (Across the Sea), co-directed by two female directors, Esra Saydam and Nisan Dağ. This time, the home is not the dark, worn-down village but an idyllic sea town, and the suffocating city is not Istanbul, but New York City. The themes of past lives and future lives, childhood and adulthood are explored through a layered look that features a female perspective throughout the film.
“Deniz Seviyesi” follows its female lead, a married and pregnant Turkish woman living in New York, as she heads to Turkey with her American husband, only to go through an unexpected journey with a former lover. The film won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature at the Slamdance Awards, as well six awards, including best director, at the Altın Koza (Golden Boll) Film Festival.
It’s never been easier to go home in Turkish cinema – at least for the directors.