Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bes Vakit | Times and Winds


Dir/ scr/ editor Reha Erdem ;Prod Ömer Atay ; cam Florent Herry ; mus Arvo Pärt
Cast Özkan Özen, Ali Bey Kayal, Elit Iscan, Bülent Emin Yarar, Taner Birsel, Yigit Özsener, Selma Ergeç, Tarik Sönmez
Source Atlantik Film Yapim, Ltd., Üst Zerren sokak No. 2 Levent, 34330 Istanbul, Turkey FAX: +90-212-278-19-71 EMAIL: claudine@atlantikfilm.com

Islamic faith dictates that prayer uttered five times every day brings man face to face with his five "phases," or states of mind resulting from the tension of workaday life: fear and desire, love and grudge, faith and pain, screams and sobbing and passion and hate. Since every encounter in Islamic life is said to create new pain—whether that of growing up, growing old or merely getting by—then prayer is the panacea for the inevitable tragedy that is life. In Turkish director Reha Erdem’s sumptuously composed fourth feature, childhood life in a rural village on a mountain overlooking the sea is the incubator for an examination of that pain as experienced through the eyes of three very different children: Ömer, the son of the local imam; his best friend, Yakup, who’s enamored with the village schoolteacher; and Yildiz, who is forced to balance her studies with the household needs of her demanding mother. Their youthful internal struggles play out against a natural backdrop of passing hours, changing seasons and rural tradition, stunningly captured in widescreen by gifted cinematographer Florent Herry. Add to this evocative mix a musical score culled from the works of Arvo Pärt, and Erdem’s award-winning feature (the film earned a top prize at last year’s Istanbul Film Festival) emerges as one of the more thoughtful depictions of childhood and rural life in recent memory. Featuring a winsome cast of nonprofessional children, Times and Winds offers an unforgettable glimpse of rural Islamic life that is at once timeless, out of time and transfixed—like so many works of its kind—by the futile search for lost time.

—Andy Bailey

Perhaps the highest praise that I can give Reha Erdem's award-winning Times And Winds is that it it made me very frightened of ever becoming a father. Obviously, as somewhat recent newlyweds, my wife and I have discussed having children, and I have imagined what it'd be like to run around with my kids, teaching them to play catch, answering life's hard questions, passing on my accumulated wisdom, and so on. You know, the fun, Hallmark type of stuff. However, I've never thought much about discipline, of how I might punish my children for the wrong they but in a loving, truly parenting manner.
There's a Japanese proverb that says there are four things to be feared in life: earthquakes, thunder, fires, and fathers. This fear -- and hatred -- of fathers and their hard ways is the core theme of Times And Winds. Set in a remote Turkish village located high in the mountains, the film primarily focuses on two young pre-teen boys who are always chafing under the rule of their fathers.
Ömer despises his father, a local imam respected throughout the village, because the man dotes on Ömer's younger brother and treats his eldest worse than dirt. Yakup is ashamed of his father, who is constantly berated by Yakup's grandfather for being a terrible and lazy son. That changes, however, the moment Yakup sees his father peeking at the pretty young schoolteacher who happens to be the object of Yakup's adolescent fantasies.
However, other adults also prove to be as heavy-handed. In contrast to Ömer and Yakup, their classmate Yildiz is the apple of her father's eye, but her relationship with her mother is frosty at best. When Yildiz catches her parents making love, the jealousy causes her to break down in tears. Meanwhile, the town's shepherd is an orphan that is abused by one of the village's men, who is chastised by the village elders even as they neglect and beat their own sons.
Much of the film is spent simply settling into the rhythms of this mountain village, and while the lack of a strong narrative might prove frustrating at times, it also allows the viewer ample time to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and countrysides of this remote corner in Turkey.
Much like my discovery of Iran's beauty through that country's cinema, the views here are often eye-opening. There are many, many scenes that are simply worth studying for extended periods of time; lovely shots that spin around the town's minarest of Ömer's father calls the village to prayer, dreamlike scenes of the children asleep in the grass, a gorgeous panoramic shot of the aforementioned orphan as he tends the village's sheep, and so on. Adding to the gorgeous visuals is a an overwhelming score by noted composer Arvo Part, which lends even the most juvenile of shenanigans -- watching donkeys mate, sneaking off to smoke cigarettes -- a certain solemn, elegaic tone.
At times, the tone of the film does get a bit too portentous and heavy, a fact that isn't helped by the somewhat wooden acting of the two young leads. But when things crystallize, they do so to great effect. There's a running storyline concerning Ömer's attempts to kill his father, some of them comical (opening the windows in his parents' bedroom so his father will catch cold), some of them psychotic (gearing up to push his father off of a cliff). And one scene where Yildiz makes a terrible mistake while caring for her newborn brother caused many gasps in the audience I was with.
Unfortunately, the weighty, overbearing tone of the film does mean the ending, which might otherwise be cathartic, is somewhat overshadowed and underwhelming. But as a pure mood piece laced through with introspective thoughts concerning the roles of fathers, and the terrible consequences when they abuse their authority, Times And Winds can be quite powerful and haunting.
Times and Winds
Bes Vakit (Turkey)

An Atlantik Film production. (International sales: Atlantik, Istanbul.) Produced by Omer Atay. Directed, written by Reha Erdem.

With: Ozkan Ozen, Ali Bey Kayali, Elit Iscan, Bulent Emin Yarar, Taner Birsel, Yigit Ozsener, Selma Ergec, Tarik Sonmez, Koksal Engur, Tilbe Saran, Sevinc Erbulak, Nihan Asli Elmas, Cuneyt Turel.

Life is composed of small truths rather than great events in Turkish stunner "Times and Winds," a hypnotic portrait of village life -- largely through the eyes of three youngsters -- that packs a poetic-spiritual punch way beyond its placid surface. Beautifully lensed in widescreen, without exoticizing the simple, rural subject-matter, this fourth feature by director Reha Erdem deserves quality fest platforming prior to niche theatrical and small-screen dates. By any country's cinematic measure, this is a considerable achievement.

Seven years ago, writer-helmer Erdem made the entertaining and inventive parable "Run for Money," about an Istanbul shop owner whose life disintegrates when he happens across a stash of dollar bills. "Times and Winds" (previously known as "5 Times," translating its Turkish title) is equally precise at scripting and tech levels, though very different in its setting and emotional temperature.

Though set in a hard-scrabble, hillside village -- shot near Ayvacik, just south of Troy, on Turkey's northwest coast -- film celebrates not the aridness or despair of the people's lives but their hidden desires and dreams, regulated by nature, the seasons and the metronomic beat of the calls to prayer that divide their days into five sections.

Cross the rural observation of Gyorgy Palfi's Hungarian "Hukkle" (2002) with the deeply spiritual feel of Peter Hall's Brit-village study "Akenfield" (1975), and you're halfway to "Times and Winds." Use of churning, chordal extracts from string works by Arvo Part (including his "Te deum") carry the same emotive power as Michael Tippett's string music in the Hall movie.

Three main characters are all aged around 12 or 13: Omer (Ozkan Ozen), whose father is the local imam (Bulent Emin Yarar), his best pal Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali) and a girl, Yildiz (Elit Iscan). When not being scolded by their parents, or at the school run by a beautiful, graceful teacher (Selma Ergec), the kids hang out in the hills, chatting, dozing in the summer heat or mixing with an older shepherd boy, Davut (Tarik Sonmez).

Omer resents his father's strictures and fantasizes about ways to get rid of him. Yakup, who secretly fancies the schoolteacher, also turns against his dad when he finds the latter spying on the young woman. Yildiz is a young woman in bud, helping out mothering her baby brother but also disturbed when she sees her parents making love one night.

Pic's content sounds like a recipe for boredom, but Erdem's calculated juggling of small events creates an atmosphere of much more going on than is actually shown on screen. When Yildiz has a small accident some 75 minutes into the film, it's a shocking event -- partly because Erdem catches the viewer by surprise. From that point on, pic develops a growing tension of other things that may or may not happen.

Technical package is aces, with the sounds of nature (wind, water, leaves) subtly accompanying the terrific widescreen visuals by Erdem's regular d.p. Florent Herry. Film won best picture award in the Istanbul fest's national competition.

Camera (color, widescreen), Florent Herry; editor, Erdem; music, works by Arvo Part; art director, Omer Atay; costume designer, Mehtap Tunay; sound (Dolby Digital), Herve Guyader, Murat Senurkmez; assistant directors, Gamze Paker, Fatih Kizilgok; casting, Ozlem Sungur. Reviewed at Istanbul Film Festival (competing), April 12, 2006. Running time: 107 MIN.
Tribeca Movie Review: Times and Winds

Posted on Friday, April 27th, 2007 at 5:13 am by: Francisco Saco

The following movie was reviewed at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival:
Times and Winds

Times and Winds 2006, Turkey by Reha Erdem

An exquisitely paced film, Times and Winds focuses on the daily lives of three preteens stuck in a mountain village in Turkey. Reha Erdem, of A Run For Money (1999) and What is a Human Anyway? (2004) fame, paints a magnificent story of longing and deep emotion as we travel along a mythic landscape following Ömer, Yakup, and Yildiz through their coming of age moments.

The three children in the film must cope with their distinct circumstances. Yakup, a boy, and Yildiz, a girl, are cousins whose fathers work together on the fields with their grandfather. While Yakup and Yildiz have to deal with their fathers, it is interesting to see how the fathers interact with the grandfather, who is overbearing and irritable. Yakup also faces love and jealousy, when he develops a crush on his schoolteacher and stands by as his father flirts with her and spies on her. He is angry and conflicted, not knowing how to approach the situation.

Ömer is the eldest of two sons, and is always being told how much smarter his sibling is. He witnesses the greater amount of love given to his younger brother and resents the whole family for this. His father, who is sick with the flu throughout the film, clashes heads with him constantly. Ömer wishes death upon his father and conspires to get him even sicker.

And then there is Yildiz, the most even-headed of the three who spends her days caring for her baby brother and who almost passes unrecognized by her parents. She is in the shadow of the newborn baby, yet deals with it in silence. We follow her walking down the pebbled paths of her village, as she goes about her chores.

A splendid picture on the lives of these children, the film is ultimately about time and the rhythms of the time they are stuck in. The stunning photography emanates rich hues and focused balance throughout. Erdem gives the characters space to breathe, move, and exist. We catch glimpses of the children lying asleep, almost lifeless, in beds of flowers, heaps of hay, and mounds of rubble. With subtle stylization, Erdem splits these characters lives into five different times of day. Morning, Noon, Afternoon, Evening, and Night divide the children’s sense of life and the specific emotions they are feeling at that particular moment. They are unadorned and allowed to just be, as they face the worries of growing up and maturing.

A superb presentation that is very personal and intimate, and yet, by some means, becomes universally resonant. The film moves ethereally, charting a course throughout the lives of Ömer, Yildiz, and Yakup. In a way, it leaves one instantly speechless and satisfied upon viewing. Not to be missed./Film Rating: 10 out of 10

Istanbul 2006
"Times and Winds":
Images for both the heart and the mind
By Antti Selkokari

What is really striking about with Reha Erdem's Times and Winds (Bes vakit) is its refusal to be explained. All it does is to invite us to look again, closer. To look at the world and its beauty with eyes we never thought we had.
Times and Winds.

The film is set in a small village that leans on high cliffs, facing the vast sea, its outskirts laced with olive groves. The village inhabitants live according to the rhythm of nature and the five daily calls to prayer. The central characters are three children on the brink of adolescence. The film follows the children and their interaction with their parents and a school teacher. One of the children wishes for the death of his father, who happens to be the imam of the village.

The boys in the film are shown to be bound by their religion. A strong contrast to the cultural ties is school: the place of reason and enlightenment. From the beginning of the film one can see the bipolarities abound; the images of the lush Turkish landscape are accompanied by western classical music. The music, Orient and Occidentby Arvo Pärt, emphasizes this duality even more. Yet in this piece of art, the music and images lyrically converge.

Times and Winds.

Erdem does not shy away from Islam. Abrahamic religions are present here and that's what makes the film even more universal. Times and Winds does not have to be seen as a religious film, but as a spiritual one. It is the inner life that Erdem is concerned with here. Times and Winds is about growing up; into the film are cut sole pictures of children lying somewhere in the woods hidden under weeds or on a bed of rocks. It seems as if these children are asleep. Maybe they are in the sleep of childhood. At the end, a boy wakes up to full consciousness and the burden of adulthood, which he realizes is crushing.

It would be rather fruitless to pin down all the possible influences in Times and Winds, since nobody, not even Tarkovski or Kiarostami, has a copyright on slow camera movement. And the consistent shooting on children's eye-level could be seen as a friendly nod to Gus van Sant's Elephant.

However, I would not want to ruin Erdem's life and career by calling him a master too early. So many genuine talents are burnt out too fast. The rage with which the media devours the new masters, never gives them time to mature.

Times and Winds proves Erdem has the talent and ability to become a master. But we have only seen the first inklings.

Antti Selkokari

Antti Selkokari lives in Helsinki and writes for Finland's second best-selling daily newspaper Aamulehti and Variety's International Film Guide.

ilm Title:
Times and Winds
(Beş Vakit)

Director: Reha Erdem
Country: Turkey
Year: 2006
Language: Turkish
Time: 111 minutes
Film Types: Colour/35mm
Producer: Ömer Atay
Screenplay: Reha Erdem
Cinematographer: Florent Herry
Editor: Reha Erdem
Production Designer: Ömer Atay
Sound: Herve Guyader, Murat Senürkmez
Music: Arvo Part
Principal Cast: Özkan Özen, Ali Bey Kayali, Elit Iscan, Bülent Emin Yarar, Taner Birsel

Times and Winds is a finely etched portrait of remote village life in Turkey composed of small, meticulously observed moments of great beauty, melancholy and lyricism. Reha Erdem's latest feature is about the bumpy emotional lives of three preteen friends, Ömer (Özkan Özen), Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali) and Yildiz (Elit Iscan), and the ways their families curb their dreams and desires as surely as the mountains and the sea confine their isolated village.

Ömer bitterly wishes for the death of his father, the local imam, who mistreats him in favour of his younger brother. Yakup is blithely in love with the teacher of their one-room schoolhouse, but his secret affections turn sour when he catches his father watching her as well. Finally, Yildiz's mother treats her like a household slave, and the girl becomes disturbed when she catches her parents making love. All three are burdened by feelings of insecurity and the apparent wickedness of the adults around them.

Erdem has a profound and innately poetic sense of the rhythmic passing of time, with each day in the village divided into five by the calls to prayer. His film was shot on location in the village of Kozlu, with many of the residents appearing in speaking parts. Despite the arduous living conditions and the domestic indignities that the young ones endure, Times and Winds is not a depressing film, for within each heartbreak lies the potential for self-discovery and redemption. A glorious soundtrack by Arvo Pärt adds to the electrifying atmosphere.

With a vast Scope frame, Erdem captures his troubled young protagonists posed against the sublime landscape, a deeply affecting motif that subtly conveys so much, so poignantly. Times and Winds is a small miracle: an intensely meditative film about young people's inner worlds.

- Dimitri Eipides

Reha Erdem was born in Istanbul, and studied history at Bosphorus University in Istanbul, and art and cinema at Université Paris VIII. He has directed shorts, commercials and the feature films Oh Moon (89), Run for Money (99), Mommy, I'm Scared (04) and Times and Winds (06), which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2006 Istanbul International Film Festival.

Times and Winds / Bes vakit / Turkey / 2006

A single, graceful motif is repeated throughout Times and Winds, offering wordless moments of contemplation with a remarkable image: Pre-Raphaelite portraits of children, sprawled on earth or among scattered foliage, lay in an innocent state of slumber. Interspersed among long scenes of daily life in a Turkish mountain village, these images offer a pastoral beauty mirrored by the deliberate pace of Reha Erdem’s film.

The idyllic environment of Times and Winds is as seemingly uncluttered as the lives of the village’s inhabitants. Focusing on three adolescent children, Erdem cautiously balances the naïve viewpoint of his young protagonists with the more complicated dynamic of their parents and other adults, maintaining a tone that is neither cloying nor ambivalent to the children’s inability to grasp the larger situations at hand. The initiation of sexual awareness is a constant theme, but without embarrassment or juvenile humor; rather, there is a delicate revelation as a young girl overhears her parents making love, a moment that brings her to confused tears, and later in the crush a young boy has on his teacher, as he avoids washing his thumb stained with blood from a wound on her foot.

Darker fixations form between parent and child as another young boy years for his father to die. In almost typical Oedipal fashion (there is no apparent obsession with his mother), the child first begs illness to take his father, then purchases a knife to speed up the process. While the stunt seems entirely youthful, with little thought of consequence, a parallel forms with the actions and repressed emotions among the adults in the film, many of whom share similar aggression. There is a particularly painful relationship between a child’s father and grandfather, as the elderly man belittles his son in a way that indicates years of verbal abuse, made obvious in the father’s physically contorted body language, and his impatience with his own children.

While Times and Winds retains focus on the small details and individual relationships within this community, a secondary theme reveals itself in the narrative structure of the piece; the Turkish title, Bes vakit, literally translates to “five times,” interpreted in the film’s use of temporal chapters. Utilizing Salah, the ritual prayer of Muslims, the film may be divided into five sections dictated by the times of day in which prayer is practiced. There is no indication of a clear significance, yet Erdem emphasizes the importance of religion and prayer in village life, underlining its meaning through the children’s unquestioning obedience to prayer hours, as well as specifically having the ill father hold the position of muezzin, leading the call to prayer. Considering the contemporary debate in Turkey between secular leadership and Islam, Erdem hints at the current political problem, illustrated with the children’s biological studies juxtaposed with the increasing illness of the muezzin.

Times and Winds’ greatest strength is in its minimalism, as well as its patience; the lush visuals and rhythmic flow gently draws us in, as the film nearly hums with the activity of life brimming among children and the natural world. This life however, as it so often happens, breaks unexpectedly, and we are left with a poignant reminder of the rush of impending adulthood and its consequences.

Jenny Jediny | © 2007 notcoming.com

Istanbul 2006
A Panorama of Contemporary Turkish Cinema
By Ayla Kanbur

It seems that Turkish Cinema has revived since the 1990's. Especially from the late 90's, a new generation has had the chance to make debut films. In other words, every year at the International Istanbul Film Festival, we have had the chance to see films of directors who are at the beginning of their careers.

The Turkish films competing in the 25th International Istanbul Film Festival comprised of both the films which have already been screened publicly and the films which were shown first at the Festival. Ice cream and I Scream (Dondurmam Kaymak) by Yüksel Aksu and Time and Winds (Bes vakit) by Reha Erdem were among the latter. Both films were eagerly anticipated.

Cinema is a Miracle (Sinema bir Mucizedir) by the master Memduh Ün, who has been in Turkish Cinema almost from the beginning, was celebrated as a jubilee. Shuttered Souls (Beyza'nın Kadınları) by Mustafa Altıoklar was rather a repetition of the Hollywood thriller genre whereas Whatever You Wish (Sen Ne Dilersen) by Cem Başeskioğlu was an undeveloped film. After gaining experience in TV series Çağan Irmak was in competition with his second feature My Father and Son (Babam ve Oğlum). The film has amazingly been a box-office hit in Turkey very nearly competing with the most popular Hollywood films. Two Girls (İki Genç Kız) was the film by Kutluğ Ataman who made award-winning films. Who Killed the Shadows (Hacivat ve Karagöz Neden Öldürüldü) by Ezel Akay is a brave approach to the subject of Turkish History. Times And Winds is an outstanding film with its compact narrative, and authenticity and won the FIPRESCI award.

Before a close look on Times and Winds, some other films are worth mentioning. Ice cream and I Scream has a corresponding side in My Father and Son by Çağan Irmak. Both films use popular language familiar to Turkish audiences from "Yeşilçam". However, both films also differ from those films with their well-observed small town people, their natural behaviour, gestures and cultural backgrounds. Moreover, the stories of the films tackle political issues in terms of the recent history of Turkey in their subtext. In this way they are separated from mainstream films which contain the dominant ideology.

Aksu, with Ice Cream and I Scream, chooses to tell the story of ordinary people who live in a seaside tourist town and focuses on the impact of global marketing on the local population. The protagonist sells home-made ice cream with genuine ingredients but he has to struggle against ready-made brands of a chain and also against the new regulations imposed by the EU. The film uses both professional actors and local people, which gives a true reflection of such towns. My Father and Son, with experienced performers, popular on television, contributed to the commercial success of the film. On the other hand, the film has some references to the 1980's coup d'état and the changing politics in daily life. Irmak is now a director accepted by all kinds of audiences.

Kutluğ Ataman's third film, Two Girls, is another film which doesn't approach its subject directly. The film touches on the conflicts of two girls with their parents. Although their backgrounds are different from each other they become very close friends. One is the black sheep of her family who lives outside the city centre, rather a slum, the other one seems to be well-off but her single mother earns her living by being the mistress of a rich man. Although it seems to be familiar subject, the film is distinguished by the authenticity of its characters.

Despite there being no apparent common tendency among these three films, we would find that in recent years new Turkish directors are more concerned with uncovering the real, distinctive connections, either in contemporary life or in the history of Turkey. In other words, their intention appears to question surface reality, to unearth simple life stories deriving from Turkey's social structure. If Ice cream and I Scream depicts an Aegean small town co-existing with Muslim and Anatolian culture, these signs can also be traced in Who Killed The Shadows by Ezel Akay. He exposes a multi-cultural atmosphere dealing with how the Ottoman Empire could have been established, points that official history has ignored. The narrative is constructed in a humorous way, in the manner of traditional comedy. The birth of two contradictory characters of the shadow arts, Hacivat and Karagöz, is paralleled with the birth of the Ottoman Empire. The film shows how all different colours of a culture can be formed into one.

Reha Erdem's Times and Winds can be praised for its courage in taking a slow pace, without loosing the attention of audience. Erdem divides the plot into five episodes according to the time period of Ezan. While we watch the inner conflicts of three boys and a girl with adults, the time of Ezan goes backwards starting from the late night call to the prayer. The film presents the pain of growing up; the conflicting emotions, guilt, revenge, jealousy and the inequality in relationships. With its well constructed plot, repetitions, contrasts, parallelism, Times and Winds, has a universal appeal though drawn from specific cultural material.

To sum up, contemporary Turkish cinema, not only in the festival but in general, has had the opportunity to create films with a subsidy from the Cultural Ministry and Eurimage as well as other sources. While television series and TV commercials are the areas to gain experience for some young directors, they have influenced art cinema. The films which are purely motivated or driven for commercial success should be put aside. One side prefers to catch the public with popular language without loosing the socio-political criticism and the other aims to make art cinema in the same critical perspective.

Ayla Kanbur
November 05, 2004
Reha Erdem's "What's A Human Anyway..."
Mavi Boncuk

Reha Erdem's "What's A Human Anyway...":
What's A Good Commercial Film Anyway...By Engin Ertan

The main problem with Turkish cinema in recent years has been to keep the industry alive. To keep the industry alive, commercial success is needed, that's for sure. Therefore directors and producers tried to find new formulas to draw people's attention to Turkish movies. Of course it was possible to imitate the old heritage of Yesilcam, "the Turkish Hollywood" so to say, but people were looking for something fresh and new. It looks like only one formula worked so far.

Nowadays Turkish popular films resemble TV series a lot. First of all, movies have as many characters as possible, played by celebrities (not necessarily actors or actresses). Another characteristic is a loose narration, where detailed storytelling and depth to characters is not evident at all. This approach leads to a structure which is based on gags or sketches, like the one used in TV series. Whilst talking about commercial filmmaking, one may think of genres, but in Turkey genre film almost never comes in question. The new Turkish popular film has to have as many emotions and as many approaches as possible, but not in a postmodern sense. It's not a mix of genres or different approaches, it's just something indefinable, so it will please everybody.

This formula, which brings cinema closer to TV, pleased the Turkish audience so far. But it's easy to guess, although there were a few exceptions, there is nothing to defend. This approach produces movies which are momentary. This is also the case with most TV productions. How many people would want to see them for a second or a third time, even it is fun at the first viewing? And since they are short-lived, these movies are usually superficial, with no statements, no connotations, whatsoever. And if they want to tell something, it is usually done in an unsubtle way. There's nothing implicit, everything is just there on the surface. This is another problem in addition to the momentary state of these films. There is hardly anything to discuss about them. When the experience you have in the theatre is finished, you are done with the movie too.

Yet, Reha Erdem's "What's a Human Anyway..." (Insan Nedir ki...), the winner of the FIPRESCI prize in the National Competition at the 23rd International Istanbul Film Festival, reminded me that there's still hope. Here we have a movie, which is closer to the European way of popular filmmaking rather than the Turkish one. Also there are similarities to the formula I've discussed above, but the main problems are left out.

The film is sweet, very humanistic (hence the title) and entertaining. Due to Erdem's background in directing commercials, it is fast and has style. But style does not overcome content, as in other examples of popular Turkish films. The film is able to raise some questions about gender problems and human relations with cultural references. The most evident one of these is to question the patriarchal image. To expand this premise, three phases of stepping into manhood in Turkish culture are discussed. There's a little boy, who refuses to be circumcised, a young man, who refuses to do his military service and two men, who are refusing to leave home. One of these men, Ali, who's living with his father, is suffering from amnesia. After a while, he is able to remember everybody around him except his father.

Whilst discussing these subjects, the film tries to solve the conflicts between its characters and is looking for a happy end. This leads to a somehow unsatisfying final, where forgetting and forgiving are suggested as a solution. So, even though it could have been something intense, the film prefers to be reconcilable. Still it's not as disturbing as it sounds, because this final solution fits to the humanistic and cute nature of the film.

Still it is not easy to say, that "What's a Human Anyway..." is a flawless film. First of all, it is too long. And some scenes may look too much like a TV commercial. Also resemblances to "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" are evident, but one cannot suggest that this a huge problem. But still, there are lots of other things to admire. Such as Erdem's skill with the visuals and editing. He also succeeded in creating a colorful and cute atmosphere in an urban city. Also the film has no linear storyline, but it never adopts the loose narration style of the other recent commercial Turkish movies. Here, the music, the editing and the dialogue hold everything together and give the audience an insight into the subject matter.

"What's a Human Anyway..." is a film dealing with universal problems, but with a national approach. It has the potential to please audiences all around the world. And yet, it's not just about fun, it is also serious in some aspects. Since the statements of the movie are not only explicit, there's a lot to think about it afterwards. So, this is a film which combines good filmmaking, commercial intentions and seriousness. The main reason of the FIPRESCI jury to award this film was to promote a different style of moviemaking from Turkey around the world. Hopefully, "What's a Human Anyway..." will reach audiences in foreign countries (whether at festivals or with a theatrical release) and show, that Turkey can produce young and fresh films as well. Turkish cinema is not supposed to be based on just art-house movies dealing with political issues or superficial commercial movies. We have filmmakers who can be fun, serious and inventive at the same time too. Such as Reha Erdem.
Engin Ertan© FIPRESCI 2004

Film Review | Eternal Themes of Exile
Mavi Boncuk

Eternal Themes of Exile in "Waiting for the Clouds"
and "A Little Bit of Freedom"By Annika Gustafsson

A life in exile and the resulting problems of identity are examined in two vastly different films, Yesim Ustaoglu's "Waiting for the Clouds" (Bulutlari beklerken) and the German-Turkish coproduction "A Little Bit of Freedom" (Kleine Freiheit) directed by Yüksel Yavuz. Both films took part in competition in the national section at the 23rd International Film Festival in Istanbul and stayed in the FIPRESCI jury's discussions up until and during its final deliberations.

Ustaoglu's second feature "Journey to the Sun", 1999, brought her an international breakthrough and recognition. Her new film, with a script partly developed during a Sundance festival workshop, deals with a historical trauma going back to the antagonistic Turkish-Greek relations in 1916, when Greek families had to be evacuated from Turkey.
The film opens with grayish-brown documentary sequences from the evacuation, immediately striking an intense note of desperation and tragedy.

The little girl Eleni flees with her parents and her small brother through bitter cold and snow along the Black Sea coast. The parents die, and after a Turkish family takes care of her, she grows up as Ayse. Her brother Nico ends up in a children's home and is eventually brought to Greece, while Eleni leads a life in secrecy with her double identities.

She undergoes a grave crisis when her elder sister dies and the psychological repression mechanisms begins to crack. Gradually, the Greek language returns to her, and she finally learns that Nico lives in Thessaloniki. Elini travels there, only to discover that she remains a stranger.

Ustaoglu handles this strong drama in a visually taut, restrained style. The maturity of the director's treatment comes across in the seamless fusion of content and form into a powerful personal statement, showing obvious affinities with Theo Angelopoulos's films and, surprisingly enough, even with Michelangelo Antonioni and his trilogy about modern urban alienation, "L'Avventura", "La Notte" and "L'Eclisse".

Despite not being awarded by FIPRESCI, "Waiting for the Clouds" will hopefully reach an international audience, not only on the festival circuit, but also through normal exposure in theaters.

The same goes for "A Little Bit of Freedom". Here the story takes place in the St. Paul area in Hamburg, since 20 years an environment very familiar to the director, attracting illegal immigrants from the Balkan countries as well as North Africa and Turkey. The main character is teenage Baran, a delivery boy and all-purpose helper in a Turkish restaurant. Baran is waiting for a decision regarding a residence permit, while his new friend, Chenor from Africa, can't produce any papers at all when the two of them are stopped and questioned by the police.
This drama is complicated by the fact that Baran hails from a Kurdish family. His parents were killed by a political traitor unexpectedly showing up in Hamburg one day.

Whereas Ustaoglu has chosen a calm narrative tempo characterized by well-composed, lucid long shots favoring reflection from a distance on the part of the spectator, Yavuz, with a style in the social-realistic mode, belongs to a category of directors influenced by documentary cinema, such as Ken Loach, for instance. A fast-moving, nervous camera accentuates a predominant climate of insecurity. As with Loach, there is nothing pretentious or superfluous in the treatment of the material. The drama unfolds organically; different destinies are woven into the story in a natural way and mirror a reality of urgent interest against a complex political background.

Annika Gustafsson© FIPRESCI 2004

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