Category Archives: Turkish

The Edge of Heaven (2007)

 “I’m a lady of easy virtue.”

Lives intersect and create permanent changes in the wonderful film The Edge of Heaven (Auf Der Anderen Seite) from writer/director Fatih Akin. Akin was born in Germany but is of Turkish descent, so his films provide a unique cross-cultural view of the lives of Turks living in Germany.

Edge of Heaven DVDThe film begins in Germany with elderly Turkish widower immigrant Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) visiting the red light district of Bremen and selecting prostitute Yeter (Nursel Kose). With her vinyl mini-dress and blonde wig, Yeter doesn’t seem the cozy type, but Ali is drawn to her. After a few encounters he suggests that she move in with him, and she accepts. She has few other choices at this point–she can’t stay in the red light area as she’s been identified and threatened by fellow Turks, so she moves in with Ali.

Add Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Dvarat) to the picture–he’s a university professor of German, and no doubt while he’s a success by cultural and societal markers, there’s something wrong…we see a scene of Nejat sitting in his messy office. Is he bored out of his mind or just contemplative? Another scene shows him listlessly lecturing students, so without explicit narrative or plot development, it seems clear that Nejat has ‘succeeded’ in German society, but he’s not thrilled about it.

Nejat doesn’t object to his father’s new housemate–in fact Yeter and Nejat have an excellent relationship. And this is in contrast to Ali’s relationship with Yeter. While he couldn’t wait for her to move in and promised to pay her, things quickly turn sour.

Circumstances take Nejat to Turkey and he begins a search for Yeter’s missing daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay). The film takes us through Ayten’s story and activities in a revolutionary group. Seeking asylum in Germany, Ayten becomes involved with a German girl, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) and Lotte’s mother Susanne (Hanna Schygulla).

The Edge of Heaven is a wonderful film, and if I’ve managed to make it sound confusing, it really isn’t. The story threads are very well woven, and although the characters are connected, the viewer retains the knowledge of those connections–we have knowledge of those relationships that eludes the characters.

Watching The Edge of Heaven, I was reminded of Ozpetek’s wonderful film Haman (Steam: The Turkish Bath)–a film that also shows the exoticism and the dangers of Istanbul. Just as the main character in Steam, Francesco, is beguiled by Istanbul, Nejat is similarly entranced. There’s one scene where he walks into–of all things–a German book shop. There it is, apparently waiting for him. He steps inside and with a sense of quiet wonder he scans the shelves and silently logs the titles….

There’s a lot happening in this film–cultural identity, loss, redemption and the relationships between parents and their children who learn to accept loss and forgive errors and crimes. This is the best Akin film I’ve seen to date (In July, Head-On, and The Edge of Heaven).

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Filed under German, Hanna Schygulla, Turkish

Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)

 “They spin around their hearts.”

A young, motherless Jewish boy, Moses “Momo” Schmitt lives with his dour, unpleasant father in a Parisian slum. Moses is left to his own devices for most of the time and as an ex-facto housekeeper, he’s expected to clean the apartment, buy all the food and cook and serve the meals. Evenings begin with Mr. Schmitt arriving home, and turning off whatever music Moses is listening to. After Mr. Schmitt tersely diminishes Moses by some comment, the rest of the time is spent in silence.

monsieur ibrahimMoses shops at the local corner shop owned by, Ibrahim Deneji (Omar Sharif). There’s an air of negative mystique to Ibrahim. Mr. Schmitt refers to him as “the Arab”, and that’s how Moses sees him too until Ibrahim one day makes a startling comment. Moses and Ibrahim form a bond, and Ibrahim assumes the male role model that Moses never had.

If this film sounds corny, it isn’t. Somehow it manages to avoid all the old tired cliches, and the film’s message is fresh and sincere. Many films would stress the Jewish/Arab friendship, and while that element exists, the story transcends to a much higher level. Ibrahim and Moses are two humans cast out into loneliness who find each other and connect. Formal religion is largely overlooked–although Moses is attracted to the Koran as Ibrahim states that the reason he is so content with life is thanks to the Koran. Ibrahim explains his beliefs, but he’s not pushy about it. Ibrahim is Muslim, and he’s also a Sufi. He’s managed to reach the rare state of contentment, and Moses is attracted to Ibrahim’s spirituality as much as anything else.

Monsieur Ibrahim (AKA Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran) from director Francois Dupeyron is Omar Sharif’s film. He delivers an extraordinary performance as the aging shopkeeper. He possesses depths of character which are explored as the film progresses, and Sharif plays with role with exquisite grace and containment. The film begins as a fairly standard coming-of-age story replete with Moses ogling Parisian streetwalkers. But once the film shifts into the relationship between Moses and Ibrahim, the story is at once solid and meaningful. I don’t think you have to be a foreign film fan to find this film’s appeal.

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Filed under France, Turkish

In July (2000)

 “The sky is blue wherever you go.”

It’s summertime in Hamburg, and while it’s a time for most people to go away on holiday, Daniel (Moritz Bleibtreu), a serious young teacher, is stuck at home. A bohemian young woman named Juli (Christiane Paul) has her sights set on Daniel, but Daniel spoils Juli’s plans by meeting Melek, a traveling Turkish woman (Idil Uner). When Melek leaves for Budapest the next day, Daniel impulsively decides to follow her, and he bumps into Juli as she hitchhikes out of town. Juli makes a habit of taking a hitchhiking holiday every summer, and her destination is always left to chance–she goes wherever the passing cars take her.

In July is basically an on-the-road romance. The viewer knows that Juli is attracted to Daniel, but Daniel is blissfully unaware of this. He’s so determined to meet a mystery woman under the Bosporus Bridge that he overlooks Juli entirely. As they pass through Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania on the way to Budapest, Daniel and Juli suffer a series of misadventures, and at every misfortune, Daniel becomes less straitlaced and more uninhibited.

While the film is rather predictable, it’s salvaged by completely unexpected moments of originality. The heavy use of coincidence is forgiven by the plot’s emphasis on fate. Juli’s free spirited character is nicely balanced by Daniel’s stability and occasional stodginess. Slated to be a popular foreign romance film, In July is directed by Fatih Akin–in German with English subtitles.

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Filed under German, Turkish

Journey to the Sun (1999)

“I swear I’ll go back there one day.”

Journey to the Sun from writer-director Yesim Ustaoglu is an unwavering examination of the treatment of the Kurds. The story is set in Istanbul and concerns Mehmet (Newroz Baz), a young man originally from Tire who has moved to Istanbul. Mehmet’s life isn’t exactly great. He lives in a squalid room–stuffed in with four other men of various ages, and he works for the local water company. Mehmet totes a long metal tool around all day, and his job is to detect leaks in the city’s water system. In spite of deprivation and hardship, Mehmet is happy–he has shelter (such as it is), a job, and his girlfriend, Arzu (Mizgin Kapazan). Mehmet also befriends Berzan (Nazmi Qirix)–a young Kurdish street vendor who sells music cassettes off of a pushcart. One senses, however, that Mehmet’s happiness is fragile and perhaps just the natural result of exuberant youth. The camera focuses on the ruins, decayed buildings and squalor–elements that are the reality of the immigrant community. Yet, Mehmet is untouched by his surroundings and remains surprisingly optimistic, until he falls foul of the authorities.

When Mehmet is arrested, tortured by police, and then released, he is viewed as a Kurd and therefore ‘tainted.’ A large red ‘X’ is painted across the door of his room, and Mehmet’s life rapidly disintegrates.

Mehmet decides to undertake a journey to Berzan’s mountain home near the Iraqi border, and we see a first-hand view of the political reality of Kurdish life. Tanks menacingly occupy a town square while residents remain out of sight. Rubble and destruction mark Mehmet’s solitary journey.

The film’s surreal scenes capture the bizarre aspects of life within the immigrant community. In one scene for example, cows graze on a rubbish dump. It also seems bizarre when the police insist that Mehmet is a Kurd–even when he insists he isn’t. But his dark complexion and hair convince the police that he must be a Kurdish political dissident–perhaps this is just the excuse they need for torture. One cannot help but be struck by the polyglot population of Istanbul, but at the same time, when Mehmet runs into a young commando also from Tire, one realizes that the definition of a human being according to race, ethnicity, or origin is a quaint, narrow idea. Mehmet and the commando sit on opposite seats, and while they hail from the same town, they are in all ways–worlds apart. Journey to the Sun is an emotionally devastating film that offers no empty platitudes. If you enjoy this stark bleakness of this film, I also recommend the Turkish film Distant. In Turkish and Kurdish.

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Harem Suare (1999)

 “The Sultan likes happy endings.”

Director Ferzan Ozpetek sets his film Harem Suare (Last Harem) in the twilight days of the Ottoman Empire. The story revolves around Safiye (Marie Gillian), a harem dweller who was sold to the Sultan at age 8. Many of the women in the harem have yet to gain the aging Sultan’s attentions, and Safiye is one of the women who have not yet been chosen. Following an incident, Safiye gains the Sultan’s eye. He asks her name, and suddenly she is one of the favoured ones–this boils down to a night (or more) with the Sultan. If the union is fruitful, and a harem dweller bears a child, then this increases her stature in the community. She will earns jewels from the Sultan, and great envy and possibly even death from her many rivals ….

The harem is at once a protected, cosseted world for the women who live there, and a vicious hotbed of palace intrigue. Dozens of beautiful women try to find ways to spend their boring, unchallenging lives as they idle around the magnificent palace. They are little more than exotic, expensively maintained pets. Intensely threatened and jealous of one another, the women’s captivity breeds hatred and rivalry. To wile away the hours, the women spend hours naked in the steam baths, are massaged with expensive, fragrant oils, become addicted to hashish, and tell each other stories.

Story-telling is at the heart of Harem Suare, and this method of narration creates a languid timelessness and wonder–while also adding some confusing elements to the tale. One tale of harem life is told by the slave, Gulfidan (Serra Yilmaz) to a room full of harem dwellers. Gulfidan relates the story of Safiye’s rise in the harem, and her forbidden relationship with the eunuch, Nadir (Alex Descas). Other, fragmented sections of the film are composed of a now-aged Safiye (Lucia Bose) telling her story to Anita (Valeria Golina), a distraught Italian woman, as the two women wait in a train station for their respective trains to take them to their destinations. These two stories weave back and forth allowing the viewer to piece together the final tale. However, some viewers may be confused by some of the time elements–especially in the aging of Gulfidan. Gulfidan is Safiye’s maidservant, and she tells Safiye’s story to a room full of harem women long after the harem system has been disbanded. One should accept this impossibility as a device to illustrate the timelessness of a mystical conundrum.

Harem Suare is an exotic tale that exposes the incredible decadence and cruelty of a despotic system. The settings are breathtakingly beautiful, lush, and sensual. The story is tragic, and it conveys with a magnificent irony, the fate of the women who were selected for their unique talent and beauty but discarded when they ceased to be useful. The director’s subtle analogy to the fate of the harem women against the fate of the stray dogs of Istanbul is loaded with pathos. This is an absolutely stunning film, and by far my favourite Ozpetek film to date. The film is in Italian, Turkish, and French with English subtitles. Note to Ozpetek fans–the character, Anita is also the owner of the haman in Steam.

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Filed under Ferzan Ozpetek, Italian, Turkish

His Secret Life (2001)

 “I don’t know who he was.”

Antonia (Margherita Buy) and Massimo (Andrea Renzi), childhood sweethearts, have been married for 15 years, when he is suddenly killed. They appeared to have a happy, settled, and successful marriage, although there are warning signals that Antonia, a doctor, fails to see. Devastated by her loss, Antonia finds a clue that Massimo hid secrets from her. Through some detective work, she discovers that her husband had a long-term relationship with another man–the sultry, Michele (Stefano Accorsi).

his-secret-lifeHis Secret Life from director Ferzan Ozpetek (Facing Windows) raises some fascinating questions. How much do we ever really know anyone–especially if that person goes to considerable lengths to hide a certain side of their character? Massimo’s death becomes an opportunity for growth for Antonia. She’s rigid and often judgmental, and even her mother bemoans the fact that Antonia needs to ease up on her approach to life. When confronted with Michele’s band of friends, Antonia discovers a group who has largely been rejected by society, and yet they are totally accepted by each other. Massimo, who appears just briefly in the beginning of the film, remains an enigma to those who loved him best, and the film, thankfully, makes no effort to understand his motives. Instead the story largely concentrates on Antonia’s exposure to Massimo’s secret, the range of emotions she experiences when she learns the truth, and her reactions to the individualism expressed by the people she meets at Michele’s flat. Unfortunately, the film declines into a rather silly romance, and while the romance itself raises some serious questions about Antonia’s behaviour, the sell-out ending, ultimately, panders to naivety. In Turkish and Italian with English subtitles.

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Filed under Ferzan Ozpetek, Italian, Turkish

Head-On (2004)

“Are you Turkish?”

When a young Turkish woman, Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) sets her eyes on fellow Turk Cahit (Birol Unel), she knows he is the man for her, and she immediately proposes. Both Sibel and Cahit are in a German psychiatric hospital for attempting suicide. Cahit is a middle-aged, worn out punk rocker who has never quite recovered from his wife’s death, and Sibel wants the freedom that a marriage of convenience offers her. She already has a broken nose from her brother who saw her holding hands with a man, and she knows she has to break away from her family in order to achieve any level of personal autonomy. Sibel wants the sort of life that other young German women have–she wants to go out dancing, drinking, and she wants multiple lovers. So she makes the offer to Cahit, and he reluctantly goes along with the deal.

Naturally, Sibel’s traditional Turkish Muslim parents aren’t thrilled with their future scruffy son-in-law, but they agree to the wedding. Cahit and Sibel begin their married life together–and this means that Cahit continues his on-and-off relationship with hairdresser Maren (Catrin Streibeck), and Sibel cruises the clubs and bars for one-night stands. Naturally, Sibel, who’s been restricted most of her life, goes a little overboard right away. And Cahit soon discovers that he’s got the raw end of the deal….

Head-On explores the painful relationship between Cahit and Sibel while touching on the Turkish experience of living as a minority culture in Germany. Cahit and Sibel are both self-destructive people–individually, they’re a disaster, and together, their self-destructive impulses magnify. Just as the film seems poised to slide towards conventionality, the plot veers towards unexpected territory. Both Birol Unel and Sibel Kekilli deliver painfully honest performances as the misfit couple that cannot assimilate into either the Turkish community or German society. In spite of the fact that the film is about a relationship, a great deal of the action is set in the clubs and bars of Hamburg. Director Fatih Akin’s film possesses a gritty quality and dark realism that accentuate the complicated relationship between Cahit and Sibel–two self-destructive loners who attempt to forge a lasting connection. DVD extras include deleted scenes, a ‘making of’ featurette, Outtakes, and the trailer. In German and Turkish with English subtitles and a great soundtrack.

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Filed under German, Turkish

Steam: The Turkish Bath (1997)

 Falling in love with a country …

steamIn Steam: The Turkish Bath Francesco (Alessandro Gassman), an Italian interior decorator inherits property from an aunt who lived in Istanbul. He leaves wife, Marta (Francesca d’Aloja) and business partner, Paolo (Alberto Molinari) behind while he travels to Istanbul to settle his deceased aunt’s affairs, sell the property etc. Francesco has inherited a Hamam, a Turkish bath, which has fallen into decay due to its lack of use and growing cultural unpopularity. Francesco stays with a family who knew and loved his aunt, and while he intends to sell and leave as quickly as possible, he stays–reluctantly at first ….

Francesco resists liking Istanbul, and he resists liking the family who knew his aunt, but slowly he is seduced by the country … and one of its inhabitants. This story examines the mystery of Francesco’s aunt, and yet several tantalizing details are left unrevealed. Steam: The Turkish Bath is not a perfect film, but nonetheless it’s fascinating in spite of its defects. Francesco is a problematic character and he remains an enigma. Ultimately, we discover more about Francesco’s aunt than we do about him. Francesco’s marriage is cold and sterile–that’s evident in the first scene, and the filmmaker initially presents Marta as an unsympathetic character. It’s a tribute to the filmmaker’s skill that the perception of Marta seamlessly and gradually shifts until she too becomes a character with a sympathetic and very human presentation. The less-than-perfect ending is bolstered by the mystery of the exotic location and the sensual soundtrack. In Turkish and Italian with English subtitles, this is another wonderful film from Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek.


Filed under Ferzan Ozpetek, Turkish

Distant (2002)

“It’s not so hard when you don’t have much to leave behind.”

The Turkish film Distant begins with a solitary figure trudging through the snow of a barren landscape. Far off in the distance is a small village.

This silent, lonely beginning sets the tone of the film. Scenes of deserted streets, a sole car traversing a mountain road, and a half sunken ship, ice bound in a deserted port underscore the film’s major theme–isolation.

Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir), a divorced photographer, lives alone in Istanbul. His cousin Yusuf (Emin Toprak) arrives unexpectedly one day and asks to stay. Yusuf seeks work in the city, and hopes to find a job on a ship. The two men live together, but increasing tensions create insurmountable emotional distances. Mahmut occasionally uses the services of a female acquaintance, but their encounters are silent and emotionally barren. Is Mahmut capable of enjoying any sort of social relationship with a woman? While Mahmut and his friends spend an evening speculating and anticipating the presence of women, none ever arrive. And the viewer senses that the lack of women at the “party” is probably a good thing–after all–what could possibly occur except an embarrassed silence. Yusuf, isn’t much better off–he is supposed to be looking for a job, but spends his days following any attractive woman he spies. He’s unable to approach the women for a conversation.

There are no emotional connections between the characters with the exception of Mahmut’s ex-wife. She feels some sort of bond with Mahmut. Mahmut seems reluctant to acknowledge a reciprocal feeling, and he is content to watch–from a safe distance–the permanent departure of his ex-wife.

Distant from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a slow moving, beautifully photographed film, and its strange, detached emotional power is created from words left unspoken and events that do not occur. In Turkish with English subtitles.

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