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Turkish Movies

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1.       damla
129 posts
 11 Apr 2006 Tue 12:17 am

With the international exposure given to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant (Uzak) (2003), the films of Zeki Demirkubuz, and the work of ethnically Turkish filmmakers like Fatih Akın (Head-On) (2004) in Germany and Ferzan Özpetek (Facing Windows) (2003) in Italy, Turkish cinema has been attracting significant attention in recent years. It helps that Turkish filmmakers have been making better films as well. Still, I hesitate to call it a fully-fledged resurgence, because these achievements have been largely individual rather than systemic – there is no real “New Turkish Cinema” movement to speak of. Ceylan and Demirkubuz are resolutely independent filmmakers who rightfully don’t see themselves as part of an industry. More importantly, in their absence, there don’t seem to be many directors or films able to take up the slack. Certainly not the eventual winner of the prize for Best Turkish Film, Istanbul Tales (Anlat Istanbul) (Ãœmit Ãœnal, Kudret Sabanci, Selim Demirdelen, Yücel Yolcu and Ömür Atay, 2005) a harmless though bombastic adaptation of famous fairy tales in a modern Istanbul setting by numerous high-profile directors. More noteworthy was Ugur Yücel’s Best Director winner Toss-Up (Yazı-Tura) (2004), a hard-edged DV melodrama about two soldiers returning from the army to a life of disillusionment, and psychological scarring. Yücel’s film proves to be an effectively acted, ambitious tearjerker, and its video quality gives it a stark immediacy usually lacking in films of such scope. But although both it and Istanbul Tales were well regarded by local critics, one still got the vague feeling that the industry was whittling on wood, waiting for the Next Big Thing.

Some may beg to differ, of course. Semih Kaplanoglu’s Angel’s Fall (Melegin Dususu) (2004) screened at Berlin and has won awards at various Turkish festivals, including the FIPRESCI prize at Istanbul. And Kaplanoglu’s film may well be the Turkish title to look out for on the international festival circuit; it certainly seems the closest heir to the terse urban chill of Distant. But Kaplanoglu displays none of Ceylan’s sense of deadpan humour, nor his effective use of narrative shorthand. Angel’s Fall, as its title suggests, is full of heavy-handed symbolism – most of it religious – and its story lumbers along with little of the offhand grace of Ceylan’s work. One keeps suspecting that Kaplanoglu wants to tell a more involved story, but is making some necessary concessions to the demands of the festival circuit with his stiflingly static imagery and minimalist narrative. Still, the film is beautifully shot, and its chiaroscuro images won a well-deserved special citation at Istanbul. Kaplanoglu may yet prove to be one of Turkish cinema’s future stars, but he hasn’t quite found his style.

Another potential future star is Ulas Inaç, whose debut feature, the ultra-low-budget DV feature Derivative (Türev) (2005) managed to be, despite its many flaws, one of the most energetic films at this year’s festival. Based on a short story featured in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, it is about a young woman who, to test her boyfriend’s fidelity, encourages her attractive best friend to seduce him. Inaç takes this fairly predictable skeleton of a plot and manages to jolt it to life with relentless improvisation and some remarkably vivid verité camerawork. For years, Turkish cinema has been averse to improvisation and naturalism, usually due to the vagaries of post-synchronised dialogue (Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s last two films have been a welcome exception to this trend.) The electrifying sight of Turkish youth acting and speaking naturally renders Inaç’s film quite unique. (Even the similarly shot Toss-Up relies on more traditionally-minded performances.) This can at times be a curse, too: The film has a tendency to drift, as if it doesn’t exactly know where it’s going, and technical problems are aplenty. (Is abysmal location sound an appropriate trade-off to avoid abysmal post-synchronisation?) Still, the notion of Inaç exploring naturalism further with a proper budget is serious cause for excitement, even if Derivative feels at times like a sketch for something more accomplished.

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