Film takes a haunting look at arranged marriages

Film takes a haunting look at arranged marriages

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Film takes a haunting look at arranged marriages

Kuma, one of the Turkish films, which center on the topic of arranged marriages, once again focus on the problems in society and suffering, just like ‘Lal Gece.’

A young adolescent girl locked in a room to have sex against her will with a much older man would be the definition of rape in many countries. Yet in some parts of rural Turkey it is merely standard procedure for a traditional arranged marriage.

Reis Çelik’s latest feature and Crystal Bear winner in this year’s Berlin International Film Festival “Lal Gece” (Night of Silence) follows a traditional arranged wedding in which the 60-something-year old groom is sent off to the bridal chamber with his 14-year-old bride to consummate the marriage by sunrise the next day.

The marriage is an arrangement to end the blood feud between two families and the groom, played by veteran actor İlyas Salman, has spent most of his life in prison for the murder, done as an honor killing, of his mother. The film’s director and writer Çelik layers in a look at another patriarchal tradition accepted in certain rural parts of Turkey with the addition of the groom’s honor killing to the plot. The young bride, played by newcomer Dilan Aksüt, is a fresh-faced teenager under her bright red wedding veil.

Most of “Lal Gece” takes place in the bridal chamber, where the blood-stained bed sheets are expected to be waved like a victory flag the next morning as proof of the groom’s virility and the bride’s sacred virginity. What starts out as moments that alternate between awkward and frightening turn into a night reminiscent of Tennessee Williams plays, a strategy game of words, vulnerabilities and fears.
Thanks to Gökhan Tiryaki’s cinematography and no musical score to elevate the mood of the film, the two characters are gradually rendered prisoners suffocating under the burden of tradition as the film moves toward its end.

As medieval as it is, arranged marriage is still a surprisingly common traditional practice and has lately become a favorite theme for Turkish filmmakers. Along with “Lal Gece” the recent Berlin International Film Festival screened what could loosely be called a companion piece to Çelik’s award-winner, another feature on arranged marriages in Turkey.

Immigrants in Europe and arranged marriage

Opening the Panorama section of the film festival and nominated for an Audience Award and Best Debut Film, newcomer Austrian-Turkish director Umut Dağ’s film “Kuma” (Fellow Wife) examines arranged marriages through the eyes of women. The film tells the story of young 19-year-old Ayşe, played by Begüm Akkaya, who is married to a man a few years her senior and sent off to Vienna.
Only that’s not the case at all. In reality, Ayşe is sent off to her husband’s father as a second wife. The old man’s wife Fatma (Nihal Koldaş) is fighting cancer, and is happy to have found a successor in this young woman. Not every children of the old groom takes kindly to the young bride bought as a replacement for their mother well. Released in Austria and France, “Kuma” is yet to find a release date in Turkey.

It has been nearly half a century since the first Turks flocked to Europe, mostly to Germany, looking for employment and the chance to start new lives. And generations after generation of Turks, and Kurds for that matter, are working hard to defy the new cultures they have found themselves a part of, looking to stick to their old traditions, some which are considered obsolete even in Turkey. One of these is the idea of arranged marriage.

Turks living in Europe and their take on arranged marriage was the subject of another movie in the early 1990s. Director and writer İsmet Elçi’s “Düğün – Die Heirat” (The Wedding) details the harrowing consequences of arranged marriage from the point of view of the groom.

Oğuz Tunç plays Metin, a young man of Kurdish origin with a steady job and a steady German girlfriend. He travels to his village in Turkey after receiving news his mother is dying, only to find his mother’s sickness was simply a ruse to have him married to a young woman from the neighboring village. Accustomed to the modern life in Germany, when Metin refuses his father, he finds out that not marrying is not an option. It’s sad to see that not much has changed in two decades.