Despite the turbulence and terror surrounding the July 15 attempted coup in Turkey, the country’s filmmakers rose to new heights on the international fest circuit. And even after the failed coup, Turks have continued to win accolades — most recently at the Venice Film Festival, where Reha Erdem won the Horizon section’s Special Jury nod with his fable-like “Big Big World.”
As prominent film industry multihyphenate Ahmet Boyacioglu puts it, these titles “are all very critical of Turkish society,” but “they are still being made,” the film fest programmer, producer, and promoter notes.
They were until recently, at least. Now the hope is that the Turkish government’s current crackdown against writers and academics who don’t toe its line won’t also mean a muzzle on filmmakers and the topics they depict such as the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which has always been a cinematic hot potato.
Variety looks at recent Turkish arthouse standouts, all of which are playing in Antalya’s national competition.
This melancholy coming-of-ager shows from first-time directorial duo Baris Kaya and Soner Caner, spotlights the Turkish-Kurdish conflict through a child’s perspective. Set in a Kurdish village in northeastern Turkey, it’s about a 9-year-old who gets kicked out of a school where the nationalist propaganda is part of the program. He becomes a carpenter’s apprentice and falls in love with his master’s 20-year-old daughter. “Rauf” premiered in the Berlin Film Festival’s Generation Kplus section to positive response, with critics noting it was more suitable for adult audiences.
This impressive debut by Mehmet Can Mertoglu is a social satire about a couple who conceal an adoption by staging a fake pregnancy with a phony photo album, fearing the social stigma still associated with infertility in Turkey. After making a splash when it premiered in May in the Cannes Critics’ Week, winning the section’s Visionary Award, “Album” has gone on to scoop the Heart of Sarajevo award for feature film at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.
Another praiseworthy debut, Ahu Ozturk’s “Dust Cloth” is an unsentimental drama about two Kurdish women who work as cleaning ladies and struggle to survive in contemporary Istanbul where their ethnic origins are a huge hindrance. After premiering in Berlin’s Forum section in February, “Cloth” went on to win kudos for local film, actress, and screenplay at the Istanbul festival.
‘My Father’s Wings’
Yet another first work getting notice on the fest circuit after bowing at Karlovy Vary, this drama by Kivanc Sezer is set against the backdrop of the current construction frenzy in Istanbul, where workers of the luxury high-rises have to contend with irregular wages and other hardships.
‘Big Big World’
Prolific auteur Erdem transposes fairy-tale tropes to a present-day setting in this tale of two orphaned siblings, a brother and sister, who escape from an unnamed Turkish city into the woods when the young girl is forced to become the second wife of the man who adopted her.
Yesim Ustaoglu’s potent feminist drama, which premiered to positive reception in Toronto, is about the contrast between two women who embody different facets of Turkish society. Elmas, an 18-year-old Muslim trapped in a loveless marriage with a much older husband must clean house, give her mother-in-law insulin shots, and undergo what feels like rape every night. Her life is contrasted to that of Sehnaz, a glamorous psychiatrist who appears to be in control of her life.
In this documentary by Mete Gumurhan, 26 boys at the sports academy in the Turkish province of Amasya endure a lot to pursue their Olympic dream and face the challenges of adolescence in Turkey’s male-dominated society. After premiering to positive reception in Berlin’s Generation Kplus section, “Wrestlers” went on to score sales, and screen in Sarajevo.