Acclaimed Turkish movie director Pirselimoğlu returns with a ‘doppelgänger’ story
Ercan Kesal features as the suffocating male protagonist Nihat in Tayfun Pirselimoğlu’s ‘Ben O Değilim,’ accompanied by Maryam Zaree, who plays Nihat’s colleague Ayşe.Those familiar with director and writer Tayfun Pirselimoğlu’s filmography will no doubt find similarities with his earlier work when watching this week’s new release “Ben O Değilim” (I’m not Him). The suffocating male protagonist Nihat, played by Ercan Kesal, will definitely resonate with the audience, taking them to Pirselimoğlu’s award-winning features of the last decade.
Nihat is a middle-aged loner, working in a hospital canteen. His job is the lowest of the low, cleaning and washing dishes, and life outside his job is not much better. His lonely existence takes him to work, back home and to work again, with no substance in his life to make him feel alive. When a younger colleague Ayşe (Maryam Zaree) invites him to dinner, hungry for affection, women, and homemade food, Nihat doesn’t hesitate.
The rumors of Ayşe’s husband serving time for a serious offense do not affect Nihat’s decision for an evening that is far outside of his routine. The evening becomes a game-changer for Nihat when he sees the photo of Ayşe’s husband Necip, with an uncanny resemblance to him. That’s when the “doppelgänger” story begins, drawing Nihat (and the audience) into an abyss of events, sometimes confusing, but mostly fascinating.
“You are who you are until you are someone else ... and then there is a price to pay,” says the tagline for “Ben O Değilim,” giving away the major plotline. Identity, its construction, exclusion and flux of it, is a major theme in Pirselimoğlu’s film, as in his previous features. “I have hang-ups over taking over or stealing someone else’s identity. It may be psychological anomalies over identity. Or deeper questions on becoming I or the other,” said Pirselimoğlu in a recent Q&A. “I have this obsession over identity and becoming someone else, which pops up in my stories from time to time.”
“Identity is a very important issue today in Turkey. To be the ‘other’ or to be treated as the ‘other’ is a crucial problem,” Pirselimoğlu wrote on the film’s website. “It is rooted in political and religious considerations and it a great burden on the country. There is an allegory hidden in the story which viewers will see if they have a critical eye.”
Nowhere men in a gray Istanbul
Pirselimoğlu and his films are no strangers to national and international film festivals, all of his films (including the shorts) have been screened in such festivals like Venice, Berlin, Locarno and Toronto. “Ben O Değilim” has won the Best Screenplay award in the Rome International Film Festival, as well as three awards in last year’s Istanbul International Film Festival, including Best Film and Screenplay.
Pirselimoğlu’s directorial debut “Hiçbiryerde” (In No-where Land), a Turkish-German coproduction, goes back to 2002. But the films that put Pirselimoğlu on the art-house filmgoers’ map were the trilogy of “Rıza”, “Pus” (Haze) and “Saç” (Hair), exploring themes of identity, death, conscious through three separate nihilist male protagonists. They are the truck driver who lends his name to the movie title in “Rıza,” the pirate DVD seller in “Pus” and the cancer-stricken wig seller of “Saç.” The one-word titles fit very well with Pirselimoğlu’s minimalist style with minimal words, long silences and still shots.
Life of a truck driver
The underrated “Rıza” of 2007 features a truck driver, stuck in a hostel in the underbellies of Istanbul with an unlikely batch of underdogs, hoping to find money to repair his truck. His affair with a married woman adds to a crisis of existence springing on many fronts.
The 2010 “Pus,” screened in the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival, has another man lost in the gray outskirts of Istanbul in the center of the story. The withdrawn Reşat finds himself in the world of crime, with the filming turning into an art-house thriller.
In the final film of the trilogy, 2010’s “Saç” is the chain-smoking, cancer-stricken owner of a wig shop, once again in a dark and gray Istanbul, who finds himself falling for a customer who lets her hair loose under her headscarf and becomes the object of Hamdi’s obsession. As Hamdi secretly finds more about the woman and her husband, their desperate and lonely lives intertwine with one another. The film went on to win the Best Film, Director and Actress awards in Istanbul Film Festival’s National Competition.
Catch Tayfun Pirselimoğlu in theaters or on DVD.