‘In Flames’ tackles tough issues

‘In Flames’ tackles tough issues

EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
‘In Flames’ tackles tough issues

“Yangın Var” features Osman Sonant’s Koşman as the loveable nationalist from the Black Sea region. Known for his stubbornness and his passionate nationalistic streak, Koşman is the average man from the region. sadibey.com photos

When the Turkish government made known that the Turkish-Kurdish conflict was no longer a taboo subject and it was open for discussion for a peaceful resolution less than a decade ago, Turkey’s filmmakers were quick to jump on the bandwagon and contribute to the resolution.

History was made two years ago when the biggest cinema event in Turkey, the Golden Orange Film Festival, included in its lineup of films for the National Competition two films in Kurdish, “İki Dil Bir Bavul” (On the Way To School) and “Min Dit: The Children of Diyarbakır.”

The government’s undertakings to include greater cultural rights and freedom for Kurds and put an end to separatist notions took two different directions in Turkish cinema. While mainstream cinema was less condemning and more sympathetic toward the past, an independent Turkish cinema by Kurdish filmmakers promised fresh cinema, with distinctive voices, aiming straight at the heart of problems.
An independent cinema exemplified by such names as Hüseyin Karabey, Kazım Öz and Özgür Doğan, filmmakers coming from a background of documentary and docudrama, had offered a fresh point of view lending a voice to the underdog.

The more recent examples seem to address the issue through cinema that is appealing to a mainstream audience and reflects the conflict that has cut too deep, not through political propaganda but through simply showing the idiosyncrasies of our society.

Two recent films have taken the same model and molded it into two distinctively different films with opposite moods. The fish-out-of-water model was used to a more dramatic effect and a heart-wrenching story in last month’s “Gelecek Uzun Süre” (Future Lasts Forever). Özcan Alper’s movie featured a young woman from Istanbul traveling to the southeastern city of Diyarbakır to collect Anatolian elegies for her thesis. This week’s “Yangın Var” (In Flames) by director Murat Saraçoğlu prefers a lighter tone, if not light-hearted, choosing comedy as its genre, not for cheap laughs but one that lets you ponder through.

Two for the road
“Yangın Var” features Osman Sonant’s Koşman as the loveable nationalist from the Black Sea region. Known (and often stereotyped) for their stubbornness and their passionate nationalistic streak, Koşman is your average man from the region. Being a fire truck driver in the small town of Çayırbağı, close to Trabzon, he is asked to bring a fire truck granted by the municipality of Diyarbakır. At first, he is apprehensive of travelling to a place known to be the epitome of Kurdish conflict. For Koşman, the city is swarming with Kurds, an ethnic group that has only been the enemy of his ignorant perception.

Spending a day and one night in Diyarbakır, he gets a glimpse of the city and its people.
Here comes his chance to see that the people might not be that much different than the people of his land, even if they are speaking an incomprehensible “dialect,” not being able to bring himself to the fact that they are speaking a different language altogether. “Yangın Var” plays out as a road movie as Koşman drives the fire truck the long distance from Diyarbakır to his hometown. To complicate his take on the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and have his heart make somersaults, he is asked to take a Kurdish beauty, Asya (Nesrin Cavadzade), to travel with him. Koşman’s prejudices and his ignorance are reduced to a pile of nonsense throughout his journey. Director Murat Saraçoğlu and the writing team of Koray Çalışkan, daily Radikal’s columnist and a lecturer in Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, and Murat Batgi, manage to hit straight at these prejudices not through poking fun at them or through being didactic in giving a message to the audience. They just open up a platform to show how nonsensical they are. Sonant’s comic timing and brilliant sense of comedy help a great deal.

Through the first minutes of the movie, he establishes a character in full bloom. “Yangın Var” was the closing film of the recent Festival on Wheels in Ankara. Saraçoğlu, Çalışkan and Batgi all met with the audience after the screening. Upon a criticism that the movie was impartial, Çalışkan took the comment as praise, saying that he “was partial when it came to politics,” but “art needs to be impartial.” Saraçoğlu said “films can soften people’s hearts and travel long distances.” This film, indeed, did.