Turkish film depicts problems of modern piety By Alexandra Hudson
Reuters / Monday, February 12, 2007
BERLIN, Feb 12 (Reuters Life!) - An Istanbul clerk finds his simple, devout life turned upside down when an Islamic group employs him as its debt collector in a Turkish film which aims to show how religious devotion can be tainted by hypocrisy.
"Takva: A Man's Fear of God" is on show at the Berlin film festival and has already won prizes at home and at the Toronto International Film Festival for its stark portrayal of a man's spiritual collapse, as he finds his cherished religious principles leave him hopelessly adrift in a modern world.
"We wanted to show that if you are really determined to live your life today by an ancient ideology, you'll find out you can't. If you insist, you'll lose your mind," said the film's screenwriter Onder Cakar.
Muharrem, the main character, is at first thankful for what he is told is the chance to serve God more directly, but once given a mobile phone and fancy clothes to assist him in his work he feels ill at ease as he ventures out from his impoverished part of old Istanbul.
He enters a glitzy shopping mall for the first time and is confronted by advertising images of semi-naked women -- terrifying to an unmarried man who lives in a male-dominated society and who sees women only in his erotic nightmares.
Despite their high-blown religious rhetoric, his religious masters are corrupt and focused on making money. They feel little inclined to help out their poorest tenants, preferring to leave charity to others.
Finally Muharrem becomes so tainted he finds himself automatically lying and cheating himself.
"People in Turkey have responded to this film according to their own beliefs," atheist director Ozer Kiziltan told a press conference at the Berlin film festival. "Those in secular circles found it good and believe it shows the truth."
Set in a dreary, wintry Istanbul, a world away from the familiar tourist images of sunsets and minarets, the film's producers hope "Takva" can show people another side of Turkey and the complexities of Turkish society.
"This film may present for Western viewers the chance to understand Muslims also have their own values. For Muslim viewers the film could present some criticism or self-criticism to allow the chance to re-evaluate their own system of values," said Cakar.
Kiziltan believes the film also shows how Islam has not been subject to reforms or a process of enlightenment, and can subject those who observe it unquestioningly to a life of torment.
"If the Koran continues to be interpreted as it is interpreted today by people like the character of Muharrem, then they too are living bombs of madness," he said.