Films with disabled characters promise hope
'Bensiz' (in picture) and 'Benim Dünyam' can be seen in the Accessible Film Festival, with added sign language for audiences with impaired hearing and audio-description for audiences with impaired visionEvery year, May 10 marks the first day of Disability Week in Turkey. About a year ago, I wrote about the portrayal and representation of the disabled in Turkish cinema (as well as the plethora of TV shows that have invaded the small screen in the last decade). The article focused on the invisibility of the disabled on screen, and the misrepresentation of the experiences of barely a handful of characters.
Taking a brief look at the century of cinema in Turkey, the article talked about a period half a century ago when disabilities served as sources of agitation or punishment in many of the films, freak accidents and miraculous healings as favored storylines. As for recent history, 2009’s “Başka Dilde Aşk” (Love in Another Language) by director İlksen Başarır, the romance between a deaf man and a woman working in a call center, was about the only major release coming to mind.
Films without barriers
Much seems to have changed since that short period of time. Three films taking an honest look at the disabled leading characters, two of them by big-time directors and another starring and produced by a popular actor, were released last year. Another hit the screens this week. The recent release “Bensiz” (Without Me) by Ahmet Küçükkayalı tells the story of a promising football player who becomes paralyzed during a game.
The film follows Necip (portrayed by TV heartthrob Metin Akdülger) as he comes home from the hospital after the tragic incident on the play. “Bensiz” takes place in the course of a single day, as friends, foes, family, exes and fellow team players come to visit him, and deal with this unexpected tragedy in their own terms. Rather than reflecting on the inner turmoil of the leading character, the film chooses to show people’s reactions in the face of a disability through comedy.
For those interested in seeing the aforementioned three films and who are living in Ankara, the upcoming Accessible Film Festival will include them in its “Films without Barriers” section. Turkey’s first film festival designed to include the disabled into the movie-going experience will be held this year for the second time between May 20 and 25. Let’s check last year’s three films with leading disabled characters to be screened in the festival.
The inspirational drama “Tamam mıyız?” (Are We OK?) by the acclaimed director Çağan Irmak features the unlikely friendship between two lost souls in Istanbul. We see İhsan (Aras Bulut İynemli) with a congenital disorder, tetra-amelia syndrome, having lost his will to live, while Temmuz (Deniz Celiloğlu) is an artist who has hit rock bottom with an existential crisis.
İhsan becomes Temmuz’s muse, while İhsan’s expectation from his new friend is on the darker side. Each man takes a journey to the undiscovered territories in their psyches. At parts too sentimental and emotionally mushy, “Tamam mıyız?” takes the audience to the inner battles and turmoil of a disabled person as never-before-seen in Turkish cinema. The box office success helped make İhsan the most-watched disabled character on screen in Turkey.
The second film is “Benim Dünyam” (My World), a remake of the 2005 Indian film “Black,” directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and based on the life of the legendary Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl who blossomed into an accomplished author and activist in late 19th century. Both films tell the inspiring relationship between Keller and her teacher.
“Benim Dünyam,” directed by the renowned director and actor Uğur Yücel, takes the setting to the Istanbul of the 1950s’. The familiar story stays intact with the deaf and blind girl recounting the story of her life, more specifically how she transformed from someone almost feral to a success story, thanks to her teacher. Popular actress Beren Saat plays the older Ela, while Yücel himself acts as the teacher. The film plays more for the sensibilities of the 1950s, probably for a greater effect, given the harsher realities, hence the obstacles of the period.
The final feature is director Cemil Ağacıkoğlu’s sophomore film “Özür Dilerim” (Forgive Me), starring the stage and screen actor Güven Kıraç (also the producer) as a mentally disabled man in his late thirties. The film takes a disarming look at the tolls of having a disabled member on the family. The heavy drama aims at the heartstrings perhaps too often and too much for the taste of an audience looking for something uplifting.
You can see all three films in the upcoming Accessible Film Festival, with added sign language for audiences with impaired hearing and audio-description for audiences with impaired vision. Headsets will be offered for those without any disabilities at the festival venues. You can find more on the festival, organized by Puruli Culture Art, a group who call themselves “a cultural operator,” at the festival website, http://www.engelsizfestival.com/en/.