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Haluk Ünal takes on Alevi issue in Saklı Hayatlar
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 15 Mar 2011 Tue 03:25 pm

Haluk Ünal takes on Alevi issue in Saklı Hayatlar

15 March 2011, Tuesday / EMİNE YILDIRIM , İSTANBUL


This is an exciting time for Turkish cinema as both filmmakers and productions are increasingly becoming politically and socially daring and forthright.

Along with “Gölgeler ve Suretler” (Shadows and Faces), Derviş Zaim’s take on the Cyprus issue, “Saklı Hayatlar” (Hidden Lives) is one of last week’s two films that touch upon delicate issues in Turkey. Haluk Ünal’s debut feature is an admirable effort that looks at the injustice the Alevi minority in Turkey -- currently the largest religious minority, with a population of about 3 million -- is subjected to.

The film is set at the beginning of the 1980s -- a tumultuous era in Turkish history in which the conflict between the fascists and the leftists in Turkey led to a military coup in September 1980 -- a devastating period of recent history that still echoes in the hearts and minds of millions, including the many who were imprisoned.

In this heavily erratic environment comes the story of an Alevi family who were victims in the Çorum massacre in which right-wing nationalists killed 57 left-wing Alevis and wounded a hundred. Ünal chooses to seam his story with a Romeo and Juliet style love affair between two young people from different sects.

Nergis (Ceren Hindistan, who has the sultriest eyes I have ever seen) is a medical student living in İstanbul. She might not be considered political; however, her weekly visits to poor neighborhoods to provide medical aid show that she is a humanitarian with leftist leanings. With the arrival of Nergis’s mother Zeynep (Laçin Ceylan) and baby sister Gürcan (the adorable Irmak Ceylan Öztürk) from Çorum, things will deeply change in Nergis’s life. The traumatized Zeynep has literally escaped Çorum after the massacre, and is keen to hide her Alevi identity in order to fit in and live without any trouble after moving into Nergis’s first-floor apartment.

Upstairs from Nergis live her landlords, a conservative Sunni family, who welcome their neighbors with the utmost respect -- of course they don’t really know where Nergis and her family are really from. Despite mother Zeynep’s paranoia and fear, all seems fine in the ladies’ apartment -- as long as they don’t reveal their identity. But then the son of the landlord, Murat (Yusuf Akgün), lays his eyes on Nergis through his camera and he falls deeply in love with the brunette beauty. Unlike his father, Murat is a leftist and is slowly on his way to becoming an activist as he and his photography club seek to shoot photos that reveal the truth and injustices of the current system.

Nergis falls in love with Murat as well; they share the same aspirations and the same youthful motivation to make the world a better place. They do not reveal their relationship to their respective parents. Moreover, Nergis doesn’t tell Murat her Alevi identity until further into their relationship. At that point all comes tumbling down for them because the families will not allow their mixed relationship. Zeynep cannot come to terms with her daughter falling in love with a boy of a social and religious background that has attacked her people and Murat’s father and grandmother will not accept that their precious boy is involved with the “other,” an Alevi who is considered an outsider.

Foremost are the misconceptions, prejudices and the mutual discrimination of the parents and the society at large that loom disastrously above the love of these two very bright young people. The tragic consequences of this relationship will affect both families and perhaps push them further apart or close together.

Director Ünal’s script stands strong and adamant against the tides of political and social injustice thanks to its carefully intertwined personal story, which is successful in purveying to the audience the gravity of the socio-political background in the context of its characters. We end up caring for both families (the adults in particular), not because they are right or wrong, but because in the end, they are human and don’t know any better.

The chemistry between the young couple is satisfactory, though the acting of the duo and their peers, at times, lacks the vibrancy required to emit the transformative political beliefs and movements of the ‘80s.

Ünal’s directing style is spot on when it comes to depicting the secrecy of the Alevi family and the shifting dynamics of the oppressed versus oppressive individuals/groups. However, I find that his Romeo-Juliet romance, which has a pivotal role in the screenplay, is exploited way too much with melodramatic elements such as grandiose music and long shots of Nergis and Murat staring at each other with parted lips or eyes full of awe. The larger-than-life quality of their rapport has a tendency to drag on more than necessary.

In conclusion, Ünal comes out with a memorable film of substance and he is home and dry, for he has tackled something that seemed impossible for a first film: A very dire and current political theme never before executed in Turkish cinema.


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