A boy’s quixotic quest for a pink scarf lends a whimsical note to a story set in the war-torn borderlands of southeastern Turkey.
But in “Rauf,” Soner Caner and Barış Kaya’s arresting debut, that quest transforms a simple shopping trip into a search for something more urgent and elusive: the peace that has been denied an entire generation reared in the shadows of the ongoing Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The film unspools in the Antalya Film Festival’s national feature competition.
Arriving in Antalya after its world premiere in Berlin’s Generation Kplus section, “Rauf” takes a quietly political stand against a long-simmering crisis that is one of Turkey’s most divisive issues.
“We created a movie against war, and we don’t think anybody objects,” says Kaya. The toll of that war, though, is made obliquely clear through the unsettling details of daily life: the carpenter whose work is entirely devoted to making coffins, the failure of 9-year-old Rauf to find any villagers who can describe for him the color pink—a color perhaps best associated with joy, innocence and peace.
That failure cuts to the movie’s heart, and the human cost for those who can’t imagine life as it existed before the conflict began almost 30 years ago. “Kids need this more than anyone, and I guess Rauf can tell this point very clear,” says Kaya, calling the film a “harsh story” told through the eyes of a child protagonist who is “pure in heart.”
It is the big, arresting eyes of Alen Huseyin Gursoy that landed the newcomer his first acting role. Supporting roles are also played by village unknowns, giving “Rauf” its hard-earned authenticity. Kaya says the filmmakers weren’t looking for performances so much as ways of “being and feeling.”
Perhaps the movie resonates because it struck a personal chord with Caner, who based his script on a story he wrote about the village where he was born. While working on “Rauf,” he tried to revisit that place through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy who – at the mercy of parents and teachers, as well as the larger forces of nations and wars – embodies the feeling of being caught “in the middle.”
Though “Rauf” was lensed outside the conflict zone, in the eastern Turkish city of Kars, it still came along when hopes were high that a two-year-long ceasefire would last. But the peace process broke down last year, and in recent months, the violence has escalated, exacerbated by the conflict in neighboring Syria.
The filmmakers, though, are resolute. “We still believe in peace,” says Kaya.
And for Caner, the film’s cathartic closing scenes strike a hopeful note about “the trust to find what we need to find.”