Saying goodbye to a great director, Yusuf Kurçenli
EMRAH GÜLER ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily NewsYusuf Kurçenli was not one of those high-profile filmmakers who would make comments here and there, and you wouldn’t see him at many a film festival where you bump into a celebrity at every turn. Yet Kurçenli was a person that long deserved the lifetime achievement award given to him at last year’s Istanbul International Film Festival by probably the most celebrated actress in Turkish cinematic history, Türkan Şoray.
His death last week, at 65, made the news, but it was not one of those highly publicized celebrity deaths crying for headlines from every media outlet. His funeral, however, brought together veteran actors, rising stars and renowned filmmakers while Turkey’s culture minister carried his coffin – a traditional gesture expected from male relatives and those close to the deceased.
With a career that included both television and movies, Kurçenli directed around two dozen films and TV shows, wrote about half of them, and produced one movie, the multiple award-winner “Çözülmeler” (Disengagements). He touched every subject that tormented Turkey’s recent history from the challenges of being a woman in Turkey to Turkish workers in Germany, as well as censorship.
Returning to his childhood in final film
Kurçenli’s final film, 2010’s “Yüreğine Sor” (Ask Your Heart), ironically, was the most personal one, the one that carried the most autobiographical elements and “took him back to his childhood memories.” A love story set in the 19th century, the film took place in the Black Sea region where Kurçenli was born and grew up.
The film depicted a period in which Muslims and Christians had lived together peacefully, before the appearance of modern Turkey, in which tolerance gradually went underground like the Christians in the region. “Yüreğine Sor,” the first film of the never-completed trilogy, in its heart, tried to piece together the broken fragments from Kurçenli’s childhood.
Following a career at the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) as a director and producer, Kurçenli’s 1983 debut feature, “Ve Recep Ve Zehra Ve Ayşe” (And Recep, and Zehra, and Ayşe), promised the beginning of a filmography that would bring to screen astonishing characters that dealt with very real social problems. Touching on such heavy themes like rape and the oppression of women under the guise of honor, the film marked the first of a string of multi-dimensional female characters that would pass through Kurçenli’s films.
The 1980s saw Kurçenli take on the burden of class differences for the people of Turkey both here and abroad. While “Ölmez Ağacı” (Eternal Tree) looked at the lives of immigrant workers in Europe, “Merdoğlu Ömer Bey” took its protagonist from rural Turkey to Istanbul, taking a look at the clash of traditional and modern Turkey.
Beginning with “Gramofon Avrat” (Gramophone Woman) in 1987, Kurçenli’s filmography gave way to a period of successful literary adaptations. In “Gramofon Avrat,” adapted from a story by Sabahattin Ali, he cast Şoray as a dancer in 1930s’ Anatolia.
He later adapted “Raziye” from the novel of the same name by Melih Cevdet Anday, and in 1990, he brought to screen Rıfat Ilgaz’s part-autobiographical account of a teacher and poet whose books were confiscated during World War II, “Karartma Geceleri” (Blackout Nights), winning awards at the Istanbul International Film Festival, the Golden Oranges, and becoming a nominee for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
His 1994 film, “Çözülmeler,” was a further take on the oppression of intellectuals by the state, this time jumping in time to the post-1980 coup era. The film wonvarious national awards, and ironically distanced Kurçenli from movies for a decade, as he returned to TV, directing such popular shows like “Baba Evi” (Father’s House).