Turkish cinema shrugs off cliches to explore conflict

New films on Kurdish insurgency sway critics and audiences

Turkish film director Ozgur Dogan poses for a photograph during an interview earlier this month. As tensions resurface around the Kurdish question, with violence in cities, fighting in the hills and a broken dialogue, two films have emerged that focus on the controversial subject.

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkish cinema has made its maiden attempts at a cool-headed look at the bloody Kurdish insurgency in the country’s southeast, with one film outshining even Hollywood blockbusters and drawing praise from both the army and pacifists.

With no less than 2.4 million viewers in two months, “Nefes: Vatan Sagolsun” – or “The Breath: Long Live the Motherland” – ranks third at the 2009 Turkish box office, far ahead of major new releases like “2012” or the sixth “Harry Potter” film.

The newfound urge to zoom in on the human aspects of the 25-year conflict, beyond cliches of patriotism and military heroism, comes against the backdrop of nationalist frenzy and violence in the streets.

But it is also part of a passionate debate in Turkey about what went wrong and how the bloodshed should be stopped.

“Nefes” is “the first truly anti-war movie in Turkish cinema,” for film critic Attila Dorsay.

“People went to see what their children, cousins and parents went through in the army. The film touched them directly,” he said.

Directed by novice Levent Semerci, the movie depicts the anguished life at a garrison in remote mountains in the 1990s, at the peak of the conflict between the army and separatist Kurdish rebels.

In a rare achievement in a country where public opinion is usually sharply polarized, “Nefes” has won applause from both the army and pacifists.

Praising the film’s spotlight on the hardship of military duty, army chief Ilker Basbug said it was “one of the best films ever made on the struggle against terrorism,” while the anti-military daily Taraf hailed it as a masterpiece that “places the beauty of life against war.”

The power of “Nefes” lies in its realism, as the creators abandon the image of the invincible soldier to depict the fears haunting fragile youths in the line of fire, their yearning for happiness and their deaths without glory. In one memorable episode, a soldier daydreaming about his girlfriend whispers, “My motherland is you.” Another production that has drawn much praise, “Iki Dil Bir Bavul,” or “On the Way to School,” has attracted 78,000 people in eight weeks, an impressive showing for a documentary.

For one year, the two directors followed the life of a young Turkish teacher, Emre, on his first appointment in a Kurdish village where none of the students speak Turkish and his efforts to teach them the language bear little fruit.

”After two months, Emre started to turn inward, isolated from the village and the whole world… We realized he was becoming more and more nationalistic,” co-director Ozgur Dogan said.

“There was a problem in that class, and both children and teacher were victims. We think the Kurdish problem starts there in the classroom,” he said.

A third film recounting the dramatic story of a Kurdish family torn apart by the conflict was recently selected as Turkey’s submission for the Academy Awards’ best foreign film. “Gunesi Gordum,” or “I Saw the Sun,” an emotional appeal against discrimination and prejudice by popular Kurdish singer and director Mahsun Kirmizigul, ranks second at the box office with nearly 2.5 million viewers since March.

All three films have hit the screen amid a government drive to expand Kurdish freedoms in a bid to erode separatist sentiment, mend fences with the Kurds and end the bloodshed. But street violence flared again over the past month, taking three lives. Kurdish militants responded by killing seven soldiers in an ambush.

Still, director Dogan believes that an honest look at the conflict will not be in vain. “It would be presumptuous to think movies can change things,” he said. “But when people start to understand each other, they overcome their prejudices and political convictions. And then they become capable of empathy.”
Date : 22/12/09
Copyright: http://www.ekathimerini.com

Turkish Film Director Ozgur Dogan

Film Director Ozgur Dogan