'Karnaval,' a film to make you feel good

'Karnaval,' a film to make you feel good

Emrah GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Karnaval, a film to make you feel good

‘There is a clear-cut distinction between art house/festival cinema and box office films. I am happy to defy these distinctions,’ says director and writer Can Kılcıoğlu.

There is a scene in director and writer Can Kılıcıoğlu’s debut feature, “Karnaval,” where the leading characters – the proverbial boy and girl – are staring at each other. In an attempt to break the awkward silence, the girl asks, “What’s your sign?” To his quiet answer, “Pisces,” she chuckles knowingly. “What else could it have been?”

These few seconds say so much about the spirit of the film. For every sweet romantic disposition in “Karnaval,” there’s an underlying notion of harsh reality. And for every harsh reality, the film offers a way out, a chance to make light of it. The protagonist is Alis (Serdar Orçin), an unassuming, ordinary young man. “From the first moments the story was formed in my head, I knew my protagonist would look ordinary but would have an extraordinary world of his own,” Kılcıoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Kılcıoğlu sets the extraordinary world of Alis slowly but in a surefooted way, through the way he possesses an unusual nickname (a patched-up version of the more traditional Ali Sinan), through the way he lives in his car parked a few feet away from his home and later on, through the way he bonds with a carpet-cleaning machine.

While Alis takes a stand against the system in his own way, he has no intention of leaving his comfort zone. He leaves his home, only to live in his car where he dines with the food his mother (İpek Bilgin in a wonderful, understated role) provides regularly and matter-of-factly. He puts up a fight with his father to leave the family business (the reason for leaving his family home), only to happily accept a job selling a brand of carpet-cleaning machine.

Alis holds onto his new job as the ultimate salvation, going door to door trying to sell the “Karnaval” (carnival) brand carpet-cleaning machine, repeating every time with conviction, “Your life will turn into a carnival with Karnaval.”

Middle-class families and ‘terror of love’

Reminiscent to some viewers as R2-D2, and to others as WALL-E, the sample machine he carries with him becomes his ultimate companion – so much so that little Karnaval takes the front seat in Alis’ cherished car.

Enter Demet (Tülin Özen), a brash, young woman who is not afraid to speak her words. At first glance, the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum. While Alis is economical in his use of words, Demet is outspoken. While Alis is estranged from his father, Demet needs to look after hers. While Alis is full of senseless wandering, Demet’s ambition is to further her career as a pie-maker. And while Alis possesses a mostly immobile car, Demet has a motorbike.

As the two spend time together, they bond over their similarities. “The two are much alike,” said Kılcıoğlu. “They are both going through a suspended adolescence, and they are both going through problems with their families. And they find each other.”

Problems with families are an overarching theme in “Karnaval.” What Kılcıoğlu calls “the terror of love” parents exert over their children is a recurring theme throughout the film. While Alis’ family is traditionally the ideal family, it is also the greatest cause of suffocation for him. “A steady job and a steady marriage are the pillars of the middle-class family. If you can’t live up to expectations as a child, you’re doomed,” said Kılcıoğlu.

“The terror of love” becomes all the more obvious as we are introduced to Alis’ brother, “the star child,” in Kılcıoğlu’s words, who is happily working in the family business, happily or not, married, and with a grandson, whose poo – in a hilarious scene – is passed from one family member to another in adoration around the breakfast table.

Kılcıoğlu is well aware of the sensibilities of middle-class family life, and he is not out to smash them. “We should just be aware of these sensibilities, what they are, how they work, and at what point they become dysfunctional,” he said.

In fact, Kılcıoğlu is very close to his family, his sister Doğa Kılcıoğlu Esen being the film’s producer, and some of the members of his family have cameos in the film.

“Karnaval” is difficult to place in a specific genre or style. It’s been compared to Scandinavian cinema, Mediterranean and American indie films, but to no other Turkish film. Kılcıoğlu is happy to have put his signature on a film that blurs lines.

“In Turkish cinema,” he said, “There is a clear-cut distinction between art house/festival cinema and box office films. I am happy to defy these distinctions.” Indeed, he has.

“Karnaval” is not your typical comedy, romance or family drama. Kılcıoğlu has blended all of these with a style that is uniquely his. As the tag line goes, “this film will make you feel good.”

You can watch “Karnaval” in English subtitles at Istanbul’s Beyoğlu CineMajestic.