Like mother, like daughter in Turkish cinema

Like mother, like daughter in Turkish cinema

Emrah Güler
Like mother, like daughter in Turkish cinema “Some say ‘like mother, like daughter’ about the fate of any girl. But I swear to God that my little girl’s fate will be nothing like mine.” This week’s new release “Misafir” (Visitor) by Mehmet Eryılmaz takes a look at a young woman’s painful relationship with her mother as she clutches onto her own daughter. After being thrown out of her parental home 10 years earlier, Zümrüt Erkin’s Nur returns home to reconcile with her dying mother; but the underlying story of incest in the family makes reconciliation all the more painful. 
“Misafir” won the FIPRESCI Prize for World Competition and Special Grand Prize of the Jury at last year’s Montréal World Film Festival.

The mother-daughter relationship has been at the core of many award winners in Turkish cinema in recent years, mostly by women directors of high caliber. Senem Tüzen’s recent award winner at the Istanbul Film Festival, “Ana Yurdu” (Motherland) is a haunting look at a mother-daughter relation at its darkest. The film follows Nesrin, played by Esra Bezen Bilgin, as she turns her back on her middle-class urban life in Istanbul after a divorce. She goes to the village of her deceased grandmother to live a childhood dream and finish her novel.

Confrontation with her past comes in the form of her conservative, unhinged mother (Nihal G. Koldaş) as she takes her place near Nesrin. The two embark on a dark journey as the mother and daughter face the demons of their past. Tüzen had said that she wanted “to explore the nature of the mother-daughter relationship while examining the specific psychological complexities one faces as a daughter in Turkish society.”

Deniz Akçay Katıksız’s award-winning 2013 debut feature “Köksüz” (Nobody’s Home) follows the lives of a broken family, trying to make sense of their lives after the sudden death of the patriarch. Nurcan (Lale Başar) is the neurotic mother of this middle-class family whose definition of parenting is far from the ideal. Refusing to take responsibility, avoiding confrontations, bossing around her three children, Nurcan directs her frustration towards an obsession in cleaning. 

Mothers take on the family crises

Her oldest daughter is Feride (Ahu Türkpençe), burdened by the responsibilities of taking care of the family as she unwillingly fills the position of the father. In her 30s, Feride finds it difficult to have a life other than the imposed role of the patriarch. As drama and constant fights ensue, the family falls deep into a crisis that becomes harder by the day to mend. Akçay Katıksız paints a portrait of a family – with all its frustrations and communication gridlocks - not through big plot twists, but through interactions between its characters and with some loud, some quiet moments. 

Another film that takes mother-daughter relations at its center is 2012’s Golden Orange winner for Best Debut, Best Director, Best Art Director, as well as the Turkish Film Critics’ Association’s Best Film awards, Erdem Tepegöz’s “Zerre” (Particle). The film focuses on Zeynep (Jale Arıkan) as she tries to make ends meet on her own, taking care of her mother and her daughter. Their struggle reaches a peak when Zeynep is fired from the textile mill where she works. The film then follows Zeynep as she tries to find a menial job, finding one outside the city, and as she moves from one suffocating existence to an even more suffocating one.

Moving through the underbellies of Istanbul, the biggest challenge for Zeynep becomes taking care of her daughter and mother at the same time. Tepegöz has said that the film is an “ode to the working class, their silence and their suppression.” It is also an ode to women, their silence and their suppression.

Ahu Öztürk’s “Toz Bezi” (Dust Cloth), the winner of the Golden Tulip for Best Film in the National Competition of the recent Istanbul International Film Festival, is yet another powerful take on mother-daughter relations, seen from different perspectives. The film is about two domestic workers as they travel from slums of Istanbul to the more privileged parts, maintaining a distanced relationship with the women whose houses they clean day in and day out, but staying close among themselves.

The five-year-old daughter of the youngest woman, Nesrin (Asiye Dinçsoy), is central to the story, as Nesrin struggles to be a single mother. The little girl becomes a defining figure in the relationship of the two women.

Raising children and relationship with parents are major themes of “Toz Bezi,” the burden of parenting and being children are recalled constantly, sometimes taken as yet other battles to fight.