Incest: The last taboo in Turkish cinema and TV

Incest: The last taboo in Turkish cinema and TV

Emrah Güler ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Incest: The last taboo in Turkish cinema and TV

The movie, ‘When Derin Falls,’ is about a 8 -year-old girl, who tries connecting with her father in every possbile way, including encounters with sexual undertones.

Red flags were raised amid media delirium last week when the head of the jury for a national film festival openly condemned a movie on moral grounds, allegedly threatening to ban the movie from entering the national competition.

The festival was the Golden Orange Film Festival, the biggest one in Turkey. The head of the jury was the ever-controversial Hülya Avşar, who had made headlines in the summer when a member of the jury resigned in protest over her selection, questioning her judgment and knowledge of film.

The film, which became the most talked-about film of the festival, was director Çağatay Tosun’s sophomore feature “Derin Düşün-ce” (a word play that could mean “Deep Thought” or “When Derin Falls,” referring to the little protagonist’s name). And the controversial subject matter was incest, a no-go area in Turkish cinema, television, literature and pop culture.

At the film’s center is the 8-year-old girl, Derin. Growing up in a broken, dysfunctional family, Derin knows nothing about being a child. After her mother’s death, she tries connecting with her father in every possible way, which includes encounters with sexual undertones. At the film’s premiere, some of the audience apparently went berserk, with some accusing Tosun’s film of “bordering on child porn.”

Rumors about the movie

Soon, rumors hit the media in regards to disputes among the jury, Avşar’s passionate plea to ban the movie from the competition, as well as consultations with a group of psychologists about starring an 8-year-old in the movie. The answer from the psychologists was that it was the “right approach to deal with incest in a manner that would make the audience uncomfortable.”

Tosun soon held a press conference to inform members of the press that the family of the little actor was present throughout the shooting and that the risky scenes were all filmed separately. He also said they were hoping “to criticize incest” with the film and “to show that incest was inherently a form of psychological and physical violence.”

While film critics at the festival found the “child porn” debates around “Derin Düşün-ce” unfounded, they unanimously panned the film, accusing the director of “offering the characters … as objects of exhibition.” Avşar had the final word, as she acknowledged that she had “consulted psychologists” and that the jury was “against all kinds of censorship.”

Incest, naturally, is not a favorite topic in Turkish cinema. “Derin Düşün-ce” is, however, the second film on the subject in two years. “Atlı Karınca” (Merry-Go-Round), by director and writer İlksen Başarır and co-writer Mert Fırat, stirred quite a lot controversy upon its release in 2010.

The film followed another dysfunctional family and the secrets that were revealed after the father’s sudden death. “Atlı Karınca” might not have been a masterpiece, but with crafty acting and subtle storytelling, the film managed to hit the right notes and was a favorite among many film critics.

The situtation in Turkey

The film was not everyone’s favorite, though, with many criticizing the film on its subject matter alone. Başarır’s answer was direct: “The situation is not specific to Turkey. Such cases also exist in the rest of the world. Although incest has different meanings in different cultures, it is almost always treated as invisible, a taboo which is not talked about and ignored. And for us, ignoring this problem is like taking a part in it. That’s why we wanted to make this movie [so that we don’t] take part in this crime.”

Incest is indeed a taboo that is ignored and remains invisible in the media, in cinema and on TV. And if there is a hint of incest, censorship comes in all forms and from all places. Sometimes it’s the audience, sometimes the head of the jury, and at other times, it’s the deputy prime minister.

Last spring, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made a statement out of the blue in an attempt to put into action his conservative views on relationships (and probably the views of his fellow members of the pro-Islamic ruling Justice and Development Party - AKP) as depicted in dozens of TV series.

“Some of the marginal themes seen in recent TV series, such as relationships between people of the opposite sex and incest, have become cause for serious criticism, upsetting society. We have to take seriously the criticisms regarding these series. These themes have to be reassessed,” said Arınç, stealing headlines for a few days if not actually making much of an impact on the plots in the series.

It was not that difficult to trace the inappropriate relationships between the sexes he was referring to, as infidelity, marital rape and abusive relationships are not new to recent TV series in Turkey. But incest? The closest reference Arınç could have in mind was the series “Eve Düşen Yıldırım” (Lightning Strikes Home), which features two cousins falling in love; it’s not an unusual situation, and one that is definitely not found immoral in most parts of Turkey. The story, on the other hand, was not an original one written for TV. “Eve Düşen Yıldırım” was an adaptation of Turkish writer Nahid Sırrı Örik’s 1934 novel of the same name. In fact, it was not that uncommon to see cousins falling in love and marrying in the Turkish novels of the early 20th century, seen in such classics like Reşat Nuri Güntekin’s 1922 novel “Çalıkuşu” (The Wren) or “Aşk-ı Memnu” (Forbidden Love) by Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil, serialized in 1900. Of course, when the latter was adapted to TV to huge success in 2008.