Today we have the pleasure to announce the publication of Six Turkish Filmmakers by Laurence Raw, our guest blogger. The book is published in the series Wisconsin Film Studies edited by Patrick McGilligan.
I have lived in Turkey since 1989, so it might seem obvious that I’ve become interested in Turkish film. Or perhaps not: I work in English-language education, communicating in English with trainee teachers and writing about the problems of dealing with students in the classroom.
Watching Turkish films has been a way of distancing myself from work, not only because of the films’ locations, but because of their ideas. I did not expect that these films would be so different from American or British films, despite a similarity of plots.
Consider the filming style, for example. Derviş Zaim photographs many of his protagonists against the background of a vast landscape or the Bosphorus, conveying a sense of human insignificance. He reminds us that humanity is part of that landscape; people return to the earth once they have died.
Semih Kaplanoğlu alerts us to the regular change of seasons that pass inexorably by, regardless of humanity. Sometimes survival is simply a matter of acknowledging those changes and adapting one’s life around them.
Yet these films do not meditate on nature in a vacuum. They are
often highly preoccupied with what might be described as the contemporary disease, especially in contemporary Turkey—the vogue for building apartments with little concern for their residents. Semih Kaplanoğlu depicts İstanbul as overrun with apartment blocks placed tightly together. It’s hardly surprising that his characters want to return to the relative peace of the country. Yet the countryside can be equally unforgiving, as in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, where the snow-laden hills offer little in the way of shelter.
Perhaps the only way to survive is to make the best of what we have and enjoy it, for who knows what will be around the corner?
Many of the Turkish films I’ve watched are quest narratives, where the central characters seek something or someone from their past, or perhaps shaping their future. The directors do not look upon this quest with a great deal of optimism. Invariably, the quests end up not working at all, or present further problems that the characters find difficult to resolve. Better to stick to the status quo, these films seem to say; it might not be much, but it provides the characters with a degree of security.
The films are set in both the present and the past. Zaim’s Cenetti Beklerken (Waiting for Heaven) is set in Ottoman Turkey with a distinct look at the present in its analysis of the ancient art of calligraphy. Zaim takes up the same theme in Nokta (Dot). Twentieth-century perspectives on local history are offered in Tolga Örnek’s Gallipoli and Cars of the Revolution, which respectively look at the lasting memory of the Turkey’s War of Independence and the first car produced by Turks for Turks. Zeki Demirkubuz’s Kısmanmak considers the effect of jealousy in the pre-1945 Black Sea region.
The relationship between past, present, and future is highly significant in these Turkish films, as their auteurs advance a view of the world as a living continuum in which past, present, and future affect each other. Characters perceive one long passage of time that will persist after they have passed away. They believe they can change the world, but only temporarily; life in the world will carry on as if nothing had happened. Hence, these characters need to repeatedly assess their relationship to the world. It is this ontology that makes the films compelling, in a way very different from Western cinema.
I invite you to discover Turkish films, including the work of Çağan Irmak, the sixth filmmaker I discuss in my book.
Six Turkish Filmmakers, he is the author of Exploring Turkish Cultures and Impressions of the Turkish Stage, as well as numerous books on British and American literature and film.is a professor of English at Başkent University in Turkey. In addition to