04 December, 2008
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
The Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival is presenting a Focus On Turkey as one of its special highlights. Turkish cinema is as old as cinema itself. Over the years, Turkish cinema has been incredibly well received and diseminated, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, mixed with periods of artistic decline. Since the 1990s, a younger generation of film auteurs have found a receptive critical and audience response around the world, introducing such artists as Dervi Zaim, Bari Pirhasan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Zeki Demirkubuz, Reis Celik, Serdar Akar and others.
Beginning with the film Yol (1984) which won the Palme d'Or in Cannes as well as Golden Globe, Cesar and British Film Critics awards and nominations, the new Turkish cinema was showcased after years of decline. More recently, the film Distant by Nuri Bilge Ceylan was an international arthouse hit and won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. The New Turkish Cinema is ably represented in the Festival's Turkish program. Of the 10 films, four are modern classics from the past two decades, including Yol (1984) by Serif Goren, Somersault In The Coffin (1996) by Dervis Zaim, Innocence (1997) by Zeki Demirkubuz and Hamam (1997) by Ferzan Ozpetek.
The newer titles show a continued vibrancy in films from the former Ottoman Empire. In Pandora's Box by Yesim Ustaogly, contemporary lives in Istanbul are explored through the complicated relationships between two sisters, a brother and their aged mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The film recently won the Golden Seashell as Best Film at the San Sebastian Film Festival, as well as a Silver Shell for Best Actress for its lead Tsilla Chelton. The film will close the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival on Saturday evening.
Other films featured in the section deal with family relations, romantic attachment and ultimate disillusionment. In Bliss, a woman's rape brings on traditional condemnation and a crisis of family honour. The film is adapted from an international best seller by director Abdullah Oguz to illustrate the clash between tribal traditions and modernity in contemporary Turkey. My Marlon And Brando, a Turkish/Netherlands/UK co-production by Huseyin Karabey, tells the story of a Turkish actress who forms a temporary romantic liaison with a Kurdish actor she meets on a movie set. She returns home to her native Istanbul just as the Iraq War begins, which creates a powerful tension as the two lovers send video letters to one another. The film was a major box office hit in its native Turkey, and won Best Actress prizes for its lead Ayca Damgaci at the Istanbul and Jerusalem film festivals.
In the film Autumn, debut director Ozcan Alper offers an existential drama about lost youth and idealism, set in the mountainous area of Turkey's eastern Black Sea region. A young man returns to his native village after ten years of incarceration for his radical political views. He is clearly broken by the experience but ultimately finds a way out of his paralysis when he encounters a younger Georgian prostitute. A film of silence and reverie, Autumn features a star-making performance by actor Onur Saylak, who says much about the human condition through the poignant beauty of his handsome face.
Winner of the FIPRESCI International Film Critics Association Prize at the Istanbul Film Festival, Summer Book by Seyfi Teoman is a film about the bonds and barriers of familial love. an ambitious merchant who is cold and austere towards his family falls into a coma, which releases the love/hate feelings of his immediate family, including his harried wife, wayward teenage sun and his disaffected brother, who attempts to bring the family together. The emotional film has won prizes at the Taormina and Montreal World film festivals.
Probably the best known Turkish director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the Best Director prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival for the psychological thriller Three Monkeys. The film is a kind of introspective melodrama, focused on a family which suffers from a major communication breakdown during their struggle to to get through their hardships. The film has a black comic edge and some pulp-thriller elements that offer a look at the mysteries and self-destructive contradictions of the human heart. The film has been selected as Turkey's official representative for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Turkish cinema is something to sample and savour in Tallinn this year.