Director revives ‘a treasure’ from an Anatolian tradition

Director revives ‘a treasure’ from an Anatolian tradition

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Director revives ‘a treasure’ from an Anatolian tradition

The new film of Turkish director Derviş Zaim takes its name, Cycle (Devir), from the yearly cycle in and around the village, the cycle of life and nature.

Derviş Zaim is one of the few names in Turkish cinema who has established himself as a true auteur since 1996 when he wowed critics and audiences both here and abroad with his inspiring debut feature “Tabutta Rövaşata” (Somersault in a Coffin). The story of the unforgettable antihero Mahsun, the homeless car thief, broke our hearts and went on to win four awards in Turkey’s Golden Orange Film Festival, including Best Film, as well as international awards in San Francisco, Thessaloniki and Torino.

Zaim is a master storyteller with an incredible insight into the intricate dynamics of Turkey’s changing social structure and its history, giving us some of the most powerful films on the people of Turkey and its recent history. Most of Zaim’s films share his signature style of incorporating Turkish traditional forms of art, mostly that have become history, as strong motifs that define his cinema.

In “Filler ve Çimen” (Elephants and Grass) of 2001, six stories of corruption and deep state were interlinked with one another through the central motif of “ebru,” or marbling, the art of coloring water and placing it on fabric. “Cenneti Beklerken” (Waiting for Heaven), released five years later, was a historical drama about a master miniature artist, placing the aesthetics of miniature in the center of the film.

“Nokta” (Dot) of 2009 featured the traditional Ottoman art form of calligraphy as a backdrop to a thriller set in central Anatolia. And in 2011’s “Gölgeler ve Suretler” (Shadows and Faces), Zaim used yet another motif from traditional Turkish arts, the Karagöz shadow puppets, and made it an integral part of his heartbreaking tale of the origin of the inter-communal clash between the Turks and the Greeks in Cyprus.

With his latest “Devir” (Cycle), Zaim directs his camera at a village in Anatolia, to an ancient tradition, a tradition which he himself calls “a treasure from Anatolia, a living museum.” Here’s how Zaim introduces his film in a note he has written, “Imagine you were born in a village in the middle of Anatolia and had spent all your life working as a shepherd.”

The cycle of life and nature

“Before modern life crept into the village, there were two big moments in a shepherd’s year,” continues Zaim. “The first came in spring, when the shepherd would take his sheep up to the summer pastures.

And the second was at the onset of autumn, when he’d return with the flock to the village. In those days, when shepherds brought their flocks down from the mountains in early autumn, they’d put their animals through a ‘cleansing’ ceremony.”

This traditional ceremony, known as the sheep washing festival, continues today in the southwestern village of Hasanpaşa. In a high point of their otherwise mundane lives, the shepherds gather to cross their sheep through a pond in a contest. The shepherd whose flock crosses the pond the fastest wins the contest.

With villagers taking their screen time as amateur actors, “Devir” blends genres, combining documentary and fiction in an unprecedented example of Turkish cinema.

The film takes its name, Cycle, from the cycle of year in and around the village, the cycle of life and nature. That’s why it’s fitting that the major characters are juxtaposed as the older, seasoned champion of the contest, against the up-and-coming shepherd, who is impulsive as opposed to the older one’s cool demeanor against the contest and the nature itself. No wonder he is called Takmaz, nonchalant or indifferent.

The loose story is shaped as Zaim goes along with his new ensemble of actors, some of them taking more screen time, as he himself told in a Q&A recently, to his delightful surprise. “I let myself go with the flow,” said Zaim, quite a fitting attitude for a film that celebrates the cycle of nature.

“I regard this ceremony as a reminder to mankind of the old days when, in relation to today’s late capitalist society, he had a far closer relationship with the environment,” said Zaim. “Devir” is a peaceful protest against the destruction of nature and environment in the face of the ruthless demands of the new world order. But beyond this, it is a celebration of nature. It is also a celebration of a sometimes real, and sometimes mythical time and place when people let themselves go with the flow of nature.