Local interest in Turkish culture has grown steadily in recent years, prompted in large part by the popularity of dubbed Turkish soap operas such as Nour on satellite television. The Turkish government’s increasingly Middle East-focused political stance has also bolstered the country’s standing in the region, leading to increased appetite for more information about this unique country perched between Europe and the Arab world.
The ongoing Turkish Film Week, running through Friday at the Opera House’s Artistic Creativity Center, is an opportunity to learn more about Turkey and its thriving cinema with nightly screenings of some of the country’s most famous films.
Sponsored by the newly established Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center, along with the Turkish embassy in Cairo and the Cultural Development Fund, the film week has so far offered up both high quality films and insight into different aspects of life in Turkey beyond the upper class urban portrayals found in popular soap operas.
The week kicked off with “Honey”, an autobiographical film directed by Semih Kaplanoglu that took the top award at the 2010 Berlin film festival. The film tells the story of a young boy and his parents in a remote village from the perspective of young Yusuf. Through his eyes, viewers experience his struggle to learn, his isolation and his immense feelings of worry and loss as his father first loses his bees, and then himself disappears, leaving Yusuf and his mother alone to fend for themselves.
Using sparse dialogue and emphasizing the natural sounds and vistas of the isolated village environment, “Honey” provides a moving portrait of universal emotions of loss and isolation, and an informative look at life in Turkey’s remote hinterlands.
Saturday’s screening of “Distant”, a film that juxtaposes Turkey’s urban and rural experiences, provides a closer look at the cultural divide between Turks living in different parts of the country. Yusuf, young and unemployed, leaves his village for Istanbul to stay with Mahmut, an intellectual photographer relative. The cultural divide between the two is complicated by their similarities: both are aimless, uninspired and unhappy. In the end, although the two live together in Istanbul, the divide between village and city proves too big of a gap to bridge.
“The International”, shown Sunday, a comedy about a group of left-wing activists who conspire to disrupt a local military parade, is a humorous look at the divides that exist under Turkey’s secular, Kemalist exterior.
Monday evening’s film Mushin Bey, is a particularly interesting selection. A Turkish cinema classic, the film is one of the oldest features at the festival. Combining a compelling plot with touches of levity and excellent acting, director Yavuz Turgul manages to make an unlikely story a realistic document of Turkey’s experience of growth and change in the 1980s.
Mushin Bey, a traditionalist, and Ali, a young folksinger partial to newfangled Arab-style music, are pushed together in a nearly catastrophic clash of cultures. The two eventually cooperate to turn Ali into a local musical star, but not before Ali learns to appreciate Mushin’s beloved Turkish classical music. Mushin loosens up and manages to find love.
“Nokta”, screened Tuesday evening, combines the appeal of the action genre with artistic subject matter in an entertaining yet deep film that somehow also manages to offer mystery along with a look at the unique art of Turkish calligraphy. The story of Ahmet, a young calligrapher who becomes involved in a plot to steal an old and valuable Quran, though seemingly of disparate parts, is as well connected and pleasing as the art it portrays.
Cinema enthusiasts and Turkophiles alike will enjoy the films offered up by this first, successful series of screenings. Turkish Film Week continues Wednesday with “Vizontele”. Screenings of “Beyaz Melek” and “Babam ve Oglum” will take place on Thursday and Friday respectively. All films start at 7 pm at the Artistic Creativity Center.