Female director asks what men want

Female director asks what men want

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Female director asks what men want

‘Testosteron’ is mostly an exercise in dialogue in which men try to make sense of both what women want, and what makes men do what they do.

Polish writer and actor Andrzej Saramonowicz’s play “Testosteron” (the letter “e” is dropped both in Polish and Turkish) has been on stage in Istanbul for the last five years. The popular play, directed by Kemal Aydoğan, is now a feature film directed by İlksen Başarır, and adapted to screen by Başarır, her former collaborator Mert Fırat, as well as Aydoğan himself.

As the name implies, the film (and the play) brings together seven men, all from different classes, occupations and ages as they discuss their sexcapades, relationships and women. The nonsensical, macho and meaningless bits of conversation hope to shed some light on the mysterious creatures that are women. But to no avail. The title is spot on, as the dialogue among men is captured accurately, with testosterone pumping throughout the film.

The men that have no relationship to one another are brought together by a common denominator, a pop singer whose wedding is just called off in the first minutes of the movie. The setting where the men reminisce, banter and theorize about what makes women tick is the wedding hall. That’s why the Turkish title is longer with “Erkek Tarafı” added, “The Boy’s Side.”

The narrative of the movie is less a linear plot and more an earnest look into how men socialize, including their manners of speech and macho bravado that is alien to most women – and some men, for that matter. The men are of different ages, backgrounds, occupations and marital situations. There is a gossip columnist, a musician and a scientist among the mix.

The film is mostly an exercise in dialogue in which men try to make sense of both what women want, and what makes men do what they do. The premise is men’s inadequacy at making sense of basically anything when it comes to women and relationships (sexual, friendship and family), as they chalk pretty much everything up to hormones.

Journey from a darker place

While the often-crude dialogue, as well as the reductionist and essentialist premise behind the story can be interpreted at first glance as an exercise in misogyny, that is far from the reality. First of all, kudos to the playwright, writers and the director, as they deliberately made it impossible to empathize with any of the men. Second, their desperate need to make sense of how clueless they are is hardly celebrated or even made sympathetic. On the contrary, men and their conversation are reduced to such lows, it is hard not to feel, at best, pity for them.

It takes some time for the movie to take off, and there are many moments where the story doesn’t flow with ease. The screenplay is almost a direct adaptation of the play, the perks of filmmaking used next to none, often giving the feeling that it is a fancy recording of the play. However, there is one strong element to the film, which is the fact that it is co-written and directed by a woman.

Female director is felt

Başarır might not have played much with the original story, nor have given it a makeover as some directors do. That said, there are many moments where the presence of a female director is felt, where she distances herself from the story and the men, hence giving the audience a feeling of watching a spectacle of men making fools of themselves. If it could be called that, there are feminist touches of sorts throughout the movie.

Başarır has been interested in predicaments and dead-ends in relationship between men and women in previous features. In her debut feature of 2009, “Başka Dilde Aşk” (Love in Another Language), she brought together a deaf man who finds himself in a sweeping romance with a woman working in a call center. What makes a man and a woman communicate, understand one another, and experience those moments when they walk into each other’s worlds were at the core of her film.

Her second feature, 2011’s “Atlıkarınca” (Merry-go-round), went to a darker place, to the story of a family as they dealt with incest. Credit should also go to Fırat, co-writer and leading actor in all three films.

“Testosteron” might seem like a stark departure in tone from Başarır’s previous films, but it might be better to see it as a break from harder themes. It’s also a refreshing sign that a director is ready to experiment in subject matter and style, if not quality.