Tag Archives: Turkish cinema

Istanbul International Film Festival 2013

Thou Gild'st the Even
Thou Gild'st the Even

Istanbul International Film Festival (&#304KSV)

30 March – 14 April 2013

Istanbul, Turkey

&#304KSV website

The jewel in the crown of Istanbul’s buzzing cultural scene, the Istanbul International Film Festival. is a unique event that acts as a crucial bridge between east and west – it’s hard to deny the importance the festival plays in unearthing Asian and Middle Eastern films, screening them alongside their European counterparts.

Although the line-up was as strong as ever, this year’s 32nd edition of the festival was home to much dissent: the closure and subsequent attempts to destroy one of Istanbul’s oldest cinemas, Emek, has been opposed by many local activists, artists, and actors. However, the mantle this year was also taken up by international guests like Costa-Gavras and Patricia Arquette, who not only raised the social media profile around this issue, but also stood in the front ranks of the protest walks. An unnecessary show of power by the local police, though, meant that most of the cinematic luminaries were on the receiving end of pepper spray, as well as being harassed, harangued and generally shoved around. Turkey’s oldest film critic, Atilla Dorsay, was also one of the figures who received such maltreatment, and, as result – and a sign of protest – quit his column at the Sabah newspaper after having written there for more than 20 years. Whether the construction company that plans to erect yet another shopping mall within the Beyo&#287lu area took any notice of the ruckus remains to be seen, but it seems as if Istanbul residents will not let this issue die without a fight.

Going back to the pride of the festival – its strong programming – this year’s slate revealed new trends within contemporary Turkish cinema. Although it’s obvious that the country’s filmmakers still feel the need to follow the example of their most successful luminary, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and create suffocating character pieces, a number of attempts at varying styles stood out.

Among these, perhaps the most ambitious was Onur &#220nlü’s Thou Gild’st the Even. Highly unusual in both content and style, &#220nlü merges the story of the inhabitants of an Aegean town and their small-town problems with that of a superhero movie to prove that, even in a universe where everyone has a superpower, the petty, basic characteristics of humanity still prevail. The film boasts some incredible set pieces (a sprawling, gorgeous scene involving a hail of rocks is particularly impressive) with terrific sound design, showcasing the work of a director who has been steadily carving his own strange path within cinema. Perhaps the criticism to direct at the film is its weak scenario – it’s hard not to feel that had &#220nlü perhaps written one more draft, the entire film might have played much stronger.

On the international front, the festival showcased some of the most anticipated films of the year – titles such as Chan Wook-park’s Stoker and Shane Carruth’sUpstream Color sold out as soon as the tickets went on sale and new screenings had to be added to meet the incredible demand. With inexpensive matinee tickets, the festival organisers ensured that most screenings were as full as possible. (A side note here has to be that the screening for Thou Gild’st the Even was sold out three times over, and there was not a single empty space in the theatre: not the seats nor the stairs nor even the doorways.)

Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl from Sweden was another title that created much excitement among the crowd. With an aesthetic style reminiscent of both Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) and Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men (1976), and a killer soundtrack, this dramatisation of a true story weaved an intricate, elaborate tale that ensnared the entire audience within the first few minutes, and did not let go until its heartbreaking, brutal end.

As per tradition, the festival ended with the televised and much-loved award ceremony, where Lenny Abrahamson’s brilliant What Richard Did won the International Golden Tulip and Bruno Dumont won the Special Jury Prize with his historical piece Camille Claudel 1915. Thou Gild’st the Even was named best film, winning the National Golden Tulip award, while Asli &#214zge won best director for her brutal examination of the disintegration of a middle-upper class marriage in Lifelong. The Special Jury Award in the national competition was presented to Derviş Zaim, who, with his new film The Cycle, continues to explore forgotten branches of Turkish art and history, reflecting these through modern storytelling. The Seyfi Teoman award for first film went to Deniz Akçay Katiksiz with the promising Nobody’s Home, while the Fipresci jury chose to award Bruno Dumont and Onur &#220nlü. Ziad Doureri’s The Attack was picked as the winner of the Human Rights in Cinema section, bringing the festival to a close.

Representing a terrific opportunity for audience members, professionals, journalists and filmmakers to come together in cinematic joie de vivre, the Istanbul International Film Festival continues to raise its own bar, attracting incredible talent and films each year, while fast becoming one of the unmissable film events of the festival calendar.

Evrim Ersoy

Once upon a Time in the World of Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Once upon a Time in Anatolia

Format: Cinema

Dates: 16 March 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: New Wave Films

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Writers: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal

Original title: Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da

Cast: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel

Turkey 2011

150 mins

Combining relatively modest working methods with a highly distinctive visual sensibility, the films of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan eloquently speak of the emotional impassivity that is an affliction of 21st-century living.

Initially a photographer, Ceylan’s first foray into the moving image was the short Cocoon (1995). Shot in striking black and white, with Ceylan also acting as producer, co-editor and cinematographer, the wordless film tentatively hints at the impossibility of companionship, one of the defining motifs of Ceylan’s work. A feature, Small Town, emerged two years later. Told from the perspective of two children, and in four entwined parts running parallel to the seasons, Small Town served notice of Ceylan’s gift for wry comedy and of his distinguished approach to framing characters and landscapes. Cementing Ceylan’s clarity of vision and his sensitivity to the delicate nuances of life, Clouds of May (1999) takes another crisply composed look at the vagaries of country living. An observation of people coming together, briefly interacting and then gently drifting apart again, the film is inscribed with a profound reverence for the lives of its characters.

Generally casting non-professional actors and family members, and continuing to call upon his increasing stature as a photographer, Ceylan brought these elements and his interest in estrangement to wonderful fruition with the autobiographical Distant (2002). The story of two remote relatives (Muzzafer &#214zdemir and Mehmet Emin Toprak) awkwardly thrown together, the film renders modern Istanbul as a desolate, if intermittently picturesque, snow-cloaked metropolis, with the director drawing on Chekhov and Tarkovsky in his analysis of the alienating effects of urban life. The first film of the director’s to be selected for Cannes, Distant was awarded both the festival’s Grand Prix and the Best Actor prize, which was shared between &#214zdemir and Emin Toprak. The latter award was tinged with sadness as &#214zdemir, Ceylan’s cousin, was killed in a car crash shortly after the film was completed.

Ebru Ceylan has been a contributor to her husband’s films in a variety of guises, and Climates (2006) saw both spouses stepping in front of the camera’s penetrating gaze for an intense and unflinching look at the marriage of a successful Istanbul couple evidently on the brink of collapse. Wilfully blurring the distinction between on- and off-screen lives, Climates makes for frequently uncomfortable and emotionally devastating viewing, revealing Ceylan as a master storyteller who recognises and rigorously investigates the great potential for loneliness and self-destruction within us all. The first of the director’s films to be shot using high-definition digital video, the film captures with enhanced clarity and precision the stunning Turkish locations. The physical details of the protagonists are also beautifully rendered; witness the opening scene of Isa and Bahar frolicking, first playfully and then with the aim of causing provocation, on a golden sandy beach. Such moments lend Climates a pronounced and profound sense of intimacy.

Three Monkeys (2008) expands the unspoken dynamics of a dysfunctional family to society as a whole. Weaving a carefully calibrated maelstrom of violence, moral decay and ruined lives, this gripping psychological drama examines the fall-out from a hit-and-run traffic accident to present a darkly malevolent civilisation slowly suffocating through its own avarice and weakness. This is undoubtedly a dark and pessimistic work, though one still punctuated with flashes of characteristic black humour.

The winner of the Cannes 2011 Grand Prix, Once upon a Time in Anatolia, a title that nods towards Sergio Leone, stands as one of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s very finest achievements. Full of piercing insights and a finely tuned, somewhat macabre wit, this is an epic and rigorous tale of a night and day in a murder investigation.

In a short prologue, three men are drinking and talking. There follows a brutish brawl and hasty confession. A nocturnal convoy of cars is then shown travelling around the countryside as the confessor tries to remember where a body lays buried. After several false leads and a rest in a remote village, the corpse is finally discovered early the next morning. In the course of the long investigation, the hidden thoughts of the main protagonists are gradually themselves also exhumed.

Beautifully photographed in the Anatolian steppes by Gökhan Tiryaki, Once upon a Time in Anatolia is a meticulously constructed police procedural populated by bickering police and hard-bitten prosecutors. Based on an actual event experienced by Ercan Kesal, one of the three writers on the project alongside Ebru and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the film unhurriedly replicates the ebb and flow of human life, unfolding like a fascinating game of chess with clues and gestures ambiguously revealed. In one landmark sequence an apple falls from a tree, the camera tracking it as it bobs and ebbs gently down a stream. The director audaciously decides against showing the actual murder that triggers the search. Ceylan has commented: ‘If you want to find something, you have to get lost. I wanted viewers to lose their usual points of reference, before they slowly become accustomed to the light.’

Citing Chekhov (the film features a doctor, who from initially being a passive observer is gradually revealed as perhaps the key participant in the narrative) and Vermeer as inspirations and influences, Ceylan has crafted a bold and at times testing film whose primary interest would seem to be the concept of truth, and the manner by which we arrive at it.

Jason Wood