1980 coup, in the eyes of filmmakers

1980 coup, in the eyes of filmmakers

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
1980 coup, in the eyes of filmmakers

The Sept. 12, 1980 coup inaugurated a period when Turkish cinema was silenced almost into non-existence, even going as far as to the burning of rolls of films.

This week marks the 32nd anniversary of the 1980 coup, which kick started a military regime that would put 7,000 people in prison, execute 50, and have all opposition silenced for a long time to come.

The Sept. 12, 1980 coup also inaugurated a period when Turkish cinema was silenced almost into non-existence, even going as far as to the burning of rolls of films. Arrests and imprisonments were common, with movie stars such as Tarık Akan and filmmakers such as Şerif Gören and Ömer Uğur serving their fair share of prison time.

Featuring the coup and its aftermath as the subject of a movie was unthinkable in the early 1980s. However, with filmmakers living through the direct consequences of the oppressive regime, the coup eventually became a regular subject. Now, a new movie exploring the coup and its aftermath hits the theaters every couple of years.

The first feature film to deal directly with the haunting effects of the coup was Zeki Ökten’s “Ses” (The Voice) of 1986. The film starred Tarık Akan as a young man who moves to a coastal town to start a new life after spending years in prison. Akan himself became familiar with prison life in the years following the coup.

Kadir İnanır and life after the coup

The smooth tone of “Ses” changes after the protagonist recognizes the voice of his torturer in his new life. The film then dramatizes the leading man turning into his torturer’s torturer, with his love interest becoming a witness to his unsettling transformation.

The same year saw two other films also dealing with the coup: “Dikenli Yol” (The Thorny Way) and “Sen Türkülerini Söyle” (Sing Your Songs). Both starred Kadir İnanır, who would continue to be the poster boy of Sept. 12 in cinema for years to come.

With comedian Zeki Alasya in director’s chair, “Dikenli Yol” is a redemption story in which a young man tries to come to terms with causing his brother’s death in the heated political atmosphere that lead to the coup. “Sen Türkülerini Söyle” incorporates themes both from “Ses” and “Dikenli Yol.” The film stars İnanır as Hayri, a man who tries to adapt to a new order in Turkey after having spent seven years in prison for his part in political incidents.

Kadir İnanır made another foray into the crippling effects of the coup in 2003 with Yusuf Kurçenli’s “Gönderilmemiş Mektuplar” (Unsent Letters). Bringing together İnanır with the legendary actress Türkan Şoray, Kurçenli considered the aftermath of the coup through a heartbreaking love story. As Cem goes back to his town 20 years later, he finds that his family still considers him responsible for his brother’s death in the immediate aftermath of the coup.

Like father, like son

Kadir İnanır took one final role in a movie about the coup four years ago. In 2008’s “Son Cellat” (The Last Hangman), he played a public prosecutor who finds himself in prison following his son’s death in the political turmoil just before the coup. The film plays out like a Turkish “The Shawshank Redemption,” focusing on the unusual friendship between the public prosecutor and the hapless villager, who is forced to himself become an executioner in exchange for the dropping of his charges.

Arguably one of the most popular films of the last decade, loved both by audiences and critics alike, was 2005’s “Babam ve Oğlum” (My Father and My Son) by Çağan Irmak, who was then only an up-and-coming director. The film was a heartfelt melodrama that put the Sept. 12 coup at its center, and how it affected three generations, a seven-year-old boy, his father, and his father’s father.
Dealing with broken families, overcoming loss, and the obstacles that fathers and sons hit when trying to bond, “Babam ve Oğlum” was the ultimate tearjerker and showed many in Turkey how social traumas can easily turn into personal ones.

While feature films about the coup and its effects abound, there aren’t many documentaries that dissect the coup through personal stories. Özlem Sulak’s “12 Eylül,” a joint production between Turkey and Germany that was screened at a number of international festivals in 2010, is a powerful film featuring interviews with 12 people of different ages and from diverse backgrounds, as they remember the days of the coup.