Turkish migrant cinema, from 1970s to present day
‘Türk Gibi Başla Alman Gibi Bitir’ (A Turkish Heart with a German Mind) features Turkish and German artists.Dec. 18 is “International Migrants Day,” a day coinciding with the United Nation’s adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants Workers and Members of their Families in 1990. Here’s a look at some of the stories of Turkish migrants and the following generations born in Europe (mostly Germany) as depicted on screen.
The “wirtschaftswunder,” or the economic miracle of West Germany in the 1960s also marked the beginning of a culture clash that would be definitive in Europe for the coming decades. The flock of Turkish workers as guest workers to Germany following a negotiation of trade labor, and later their families, turned out not to be the greatest deal for Turkish workers.
Refusing to integrate into the cultures they had now become part of (later other western European countries as well), Turkish immigrants piled frustration generation after generation, not only for themselves, but also for the people of the host countries over the years. It took about a decade for what could be called the migrant Turkish cinema to emerge in the 1970s, with harsh working conditions, culture clash, and lost generations becoming some of the major themes.
One of the first examples is perhaps the least known in Turkey, despite wowing its critics back in 1979, and winning an award in Sweden for its director, as well as two Golden Oranges in 1981. “Gül Hasan” (Hasan the Rose) is the only directorial work of the late stage, film and TV actor Tuncel Kurtiz.
Starring some of prominent actors in their younger years, like Müjdat Gezen and the late Savaş Dinçer, the film takes a look at the immigrants and their problems in Europe. Through its main character, a director defrauding Turkish citizens working in Europe with the promise of giving them parts in a film he’s about to shoot, “Gül Hasan” gives, an at times, funny, but always realistic, picture of the exploitation of migrants in Europe.
More realistic portrayals in the new century
It was director Tevfik Başer’s “40 Metrekare Almanya” (40 Square Meters of Germany) of 1986 that put the lives of the migrants in Germany on the cinematic map. The film put a female character in its center, the newly-wed Turna (Özay Fecht) is taken from her village in Turkey to Germany to be locked at a small apartment every day while her husband goes to work. The film was a very realistic glimpse into the lives of Turkish citizens in Turkey.
The film that brought Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akın a Golden Bear in 2004 and international acclaim, “Gegen die Wand” (Head-On), as well as 2007’s award-sweeper, “Auf der anderen Seite” (The Edge of Heaven), would establish his name as the voice of the third generation of Turks in Germany.
“Gegen die Wand” was a heartbreaking love story of two people living in cultural purgatory, between tradition and modernity, Turkey and Germany, survival and death. Drawing from his long past as a migrant in Germany, Akın recreated the world of three generations of Turkish migrants in Germany.
Akın freed Turkish (and German) characters from stereotypical portrayals and opened the way for young Turkish-German directors like Özgür Yıldırım to have their distinct voices in cinema. Yıldırım’s “Chiko” from 2008 told the story of the street-smart Turkish boy İsa, known to many as Chiko, and his bumpy ride in the underworld of drugs. The film featured the self-made macho world of young Turkish boys in Germany, boys who become men with violence, drugs, and gang life.
While most migrant cinema tells the struggles and frustrations of workers and their families, there is one documentary that looks at Turkish migrants from another perspective. Feature director Murat Şeker’s documentary “Türk Gibi Başla Alman Gibi Bitir” (A Turkish Heart with a German Mind) features successful Turkish and Turkish/German artists in Turkey. Other examples of generations of migrant Turks in Germany on screen are Buket Alakuş’s “Anam” (My Mother) from 2001, the story of a hapless Turkish housewife and mother in Germany; Austrian director Feo Aladağ’s “Die Fremde” (When We Leave) from 2010, in which a single mother ends her marriage in Turkey to go back to her family in Berlin; Dutch director Ben Verlong’s 2010 film “Takiye: Allah’ın Yolunda”(In the Name of God), a genre-bending movie that looks deep into a recurring problem for Turkish people living in Europe, and Thomas Arslan’s “Der schöne Tag” (A Fine Day) from 2011, the story of a Turkish woman’s struggle to become an actress.