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‘Ward 72’: The ‘depression era’ of Turkey
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 08 Mar 2011 Tue 11:47 am

‘Ward 72’: The ‘depression era’ of Turkey

08 March 2011, Tuesday / EMİNE YILDIRIM, İSTANBUL


Turkish author Orhan Kemal’s classic novel “72. Koğuş” (Ward 72) gets one more adaptation to the big screen through the pen of author Ayfer Tunç in last week’s film of the same name, directed by Murat Saraçoğlu, also the director behind the period piece “120.”

This is the second time Kemal’s story is getting a feature film treatment, the first one being a 1987 production, starring Kadir İnanır in its title role.

The story is set in 1940s Turkey, a time when World War II had forced destitution on the country. It’s always hard to adapt literature to the big screen, and though the film is decorated with an entourage of celebrated actors and actresses, the difficulties of reflecting a literary text in cinema in light of coherency have tarnished this very well-intentioned film, produced by the production company of actors Kerem Alışık and Yavuz Bingöl.

Set in the confines of a prison, the film starts off with a hoard of inmates fighting over a leftover chicken drumstick thrown out by one of the cruel guards. The men are not men anymore, observes the proud Captain Ahmet (Yavuz Bingöl), also an inmate. As he watches his fellow inmates from the 72nd ward in this freezing courtyard, he ponders whether people in such conditions have any integrity left. And so we are introduced to the members of this ward, all of them with rotten teeth, torn clothes and not a bite to eat. But things just might change when Ahmet receives money from his mother and decides to share it by buying all of his ward mates a round of hot food. How long will this generosity last? We wonder this as we see the cunning eyes of several of these men waiting to take advantage of Ahmet’s naïveté.

In the parallel story, we set foot into the women’s side of the prison. Frankly, a much more interesting story. With the arrival of the headstrong new inmate Fatma (Hülya Avşar, proving once again that she can actually act) the hierarchy of the women inmates might change. Fatma immediately befriends the pregnant Meryem (Songül Öden) who is on death row, nervously waiting for her execution after her birth. Their bond does not sit very well with the other women, who see Fatma’s beauty and stubbornness as a threat and are ready to do anything to see her demise. In fact her beauty catches the attention of Ahmet, who looks upon her as an angel from a distance, and of the mobster inmate Hilmi (Cihan Canova), who is only interested in satisfying his carnal desires. This prison is a place where the cunning, the cruel and the opportunist can survive. We can imagine the horrible things that take a toll on Fatma. Yet it isn’t only Fatma’s story that deserves our attention. Most of the women here have been imprisoned on false charges and as such serve as examples of women persecuted by a patriarchal system.

The relationship between Fatma and Meryem, in my view, is the strongest point of the film, not only thanks to the strong chemistry between Öden and Avşar but also the way Saraçoğlu has emphasized the importance of the remaining crumbs of humanity left in this dire place through the compassion of two women who stick up for and support each other.

The main problem with the film lies in its lack of focus. The parallel stories of the male and female wards are not woven into each other very well, and at times we feel like we are watching two very different movies. Kemal’s novel, through the two wards, points to the desperation of humanity in horrendous conditions; though the film makes it a point to underscore the same predicament, the drone tempo makes it feel that the potential was not fully tapped.

The choice of using intensely blazing violins throughout the soundtrack alienates the audience at essential scenes. The actors fully transmit their emotions without needing any grandiose musical support, and yet we are bombarded with such a high-pitched fortissimo that at times watching the screen becomes unbearable.

The cinematography of the film is a plus on the atmospheric aspect; Demian Barba illustrates with his lighting and framing a kind of hell-struck location that looms like an iron hammer waiting to strike down on the characters at any moment.

Although “72. Koğuş” is an admirable effort and manifests itself as a decent adaptation of the novel, it still manages to leave the audience aching to see something more: substance. This could have been an amazing film, but acquiesces to only be good.

‘72. Koğuş’

Directed by:

Murat Saraçoğlu

 Genre: drama

Cast: Kerem Alışık, Hülya Avşar, Yavuz Bingöl, Songül Öden

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