Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book | Cinema in Turkey REVIEW

Cinespect REVIEW
Lost in Translation
Carlos J. Segura | Dec 08, 2010 |

What makes a film American, French, German, English or, in this case, Turkish? To answer that begs the question: what defines something (or someone) as Turkish? It’s an especially interesting curiosity in this case, particularly when you take into account how young Turkey is as a country (it was founded in 1923) and how many long standing influences stand behind it due to its Ottoman past and how much it is and has been influenced by countries in the west. Savas Arslan’s “Cinema in Turkey: A New Critical History” (336 pages; Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; $35.00) looks into what defines a film as Turkish, who gets to define a film as such and how Turkey’s production system, particularly in the golden age of its industry known as Yesilcam, operated and where it took inspiration from in terms of its production mode and its filmmaking styles.

Turkey’s film beginnings are relatively late; only sixty feature films were made before 1945 according to Arslan; this left Turkey to consume mainly imported cinema, namely American, Soviet and Western European films. However, once World War II began the number of films from these territories died down, leaving a void that is filled by the importation of Egyptian films. One should add that what makes these import practices notable is that while cinema was developing in Turkey the republican reformers—the elite responsible for shaping the identity of the country into something more modern, Westernized—almost completely ignored the cinema. No film schools or studios were opened by these folks.

Essentially, this means cinema in Turkey was up for grabs in terms of the way its identity was to be molded. And it is with Egyptian melodramas that the identity of Yesilcam, often operating under what Arslan refers to as a “melodramatic modality,” begins to take shape; the popularity of Egyptian films, and the direction of Yesilcam’s identity, were dictated by the very people the republican elite was looking to push by the wayside in terms of their influence on the identity of Turkey: the rural, lower-class filmgoer. With this groundwork laid Arslan establishes the identity of Yesilcam as often being tugged at from two opposing sides. One minute it is pro-Westernization and modernization and the next it’s not. It is because the cinema of Turkey began and evolved according to the spectators of Turkey rather than according to the dictates of the republican elite that Arslan’s thesis is especially interesting. The way the he creates links between Turkey’s history and cultural identity while interweaving these subjects with Turkey’s cinematic history and identity is easily the most interesting and compelling reason to read ”Cinema in Turkey.”

If you’re looking for more of a breezy guide to particular films, stars and directors then you may feel slightly shortchanged. To be clear and specific Arslan does touch on filmmakers, stars, and films. There is an entire chapter devoted to these subjects entitled “High Yesilcam II: Genres and Films.” However, it only accounts for 76 pages of the book. This chapter is more samples from across the board rather than an exhaustive and comprehensive list of examples it seems.

So where does Turkey, or rather Yesilcam, stand on the world stage at the moment? The chapter “Postmorterm for Yesilcam: Post-Yesilcam, or the New Cinema of Turkey” posits that some believe that Turkey is finally finding a filmic identity it can call its own, noting a film called “The Bandit” as the best example of this. Along with this possibility come films by art house or film festival directors like Nuri Bilge Ceylan or directors like Faith Akin (arguably the most famous director of Turkish origin) and Ferzan Ozpetek, which the books points out some have called Orientalists, men guilty of exploiting their roots for western audiences, at worst. At best, they are going past representing any one culture or nation, instead moving over to the realm of world cinema. This is due in large part to the fact that newer generations are becoming more secular, educated, global and interconnected with the rest of the world. Interestingly, the book points out that the new generation of Turkish filmgoers, students or young people for example, find in Yesilcam ironic or so-bad-it’s-good pleasures (not far off at all from how so many of the young see certain films here in America).

As you will note by the content and analysis made in “Cinema in Turkey”, along with it having been pointed out earlier in this piece, the book is not strictly a primer on Turkish films. It is a critical, occasionally challenging work, typical of the kind written with the academic minded reader in mind; the language does occasionally get in the way of the history and ideas Arslan propose. (Arslan is an associate professor of film and television at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul.) However, he fixes in and reiterates key words and ideas so often that you ultimately will not find yourself lost.

The final analysis that emerges from this book is of a cinematic identity that always seemed in flux until it came close to finding some kind of an idea of itself in the ‘60s and ‘70s; or at the very least it had the support of spectators that were unified by and validated these films by their attending them. However, due to the rise of television it soon lost support in the ‘80s and because of the rise of urban and educated spectators it is now forced to find a new identity. Filmic and cultural identities seem to be constantly searching for themselves in this instance.

Book | Cinema in Turkey

Cinema in Turkey | A New Critical History by Savas Arslan

ISBN13: 9780195370058
ISBN10: 0195370058
Hardback, 336 pages
Also available: Paperback

Savas Arslan is Associate Professor of Film and Television at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey. He is the coeditor of Media, Culture and Identity in Europe and the author of Melodrama (in Turkish).

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Pre-Yesilcam: Cinema in Turkey Until The Late 1940s
3. Early Yesilcam: The Advent of Yesilcam in the 1950s
4. High Yesilcam I: Industry and Dubbing
5. High Yesilcam II: Genres and Films
6. Late Yesilcam: Melting in the 1980s
7. Postmortem for Yesilcam: Post-Yesilcam, or the New Cinema of Turkey

Friday, December 03, 2010

Review | Tete de turc

Tete de turc (France)
Variety Review By JORDAN MINTZER

A Warner Bros. France release of a Aliceeleo Cinema, Aliceeleo, France 2 Cinema production, in association with La Banque Postale Image 3, Sofica EuropaCorp, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema, France Televisions, CNC. (International sales: Other Angle Pictures, Paris.) Produced by Patrick Godeau. Executive producer, Francois Galfre. Directed, written by Pascal Elbe.
With: Roschdy Zem, Pascal Elbe, Ronit Elkabetz, Samir Makhlouf, Simon Abkarian, Forence Thomassin, Valerie Benguigui, Monique Chaumette, Laure Marsac, Stephan Guerin-Tillie, Brigitte Catillon, Gamil Ratib, Moussa Masskri, Leo Elbe.

A fast-paced network narrative that ventures into the ever-newsworthy French suburbs, "Tete de turc" (slang for "scapegoat") scores solid notes for ambition, but doesn't quite pull itself together in a satisfying manner. Centered around an explosive incident that leaves one benevolent doctor in a coma and one teenager in hiding, thesp-cum-helmer Pascal Elbe's ("Father and Sons") wide-reaching scenario shows Gaul's immigrant populations at the mercy of roaming gangs and abusive cops, living under conditions more akin to Deadwood than to Dijon. Domestic release by Warner Bros. France should yield respectable coin, with Euro and Francophone bookings a strong possibility.

Unlike other recent banlieue films, which are either pure genre exercises ("District B13," "The Horde") or pure arthouse studies ("35 Shots of Rum," "Games of Love and Chance,"), Elbe's script situates itself between the two, using a thriller framework to tackle the harsh realities currently plaguing the outskirts of Paris, Lyons and Marseilles.

Based on a 2006 incident in which a Senegalese woman was burned alive on a bus by a band of violent teens, the action here is transplanted to France's less publicized Turkish and Armenian communities, and presents several characters linked together by an attack that occurs in the pic's opening minutes.

When physician Simon (Elbe) pays a call to a menacing housing project, his vehicle is ambushed by rock-throwing youths, including high schooler Bora (Samir Makhlouf), who launches a Molotov cocktail but then rushes to save the doc before his car explodes. As Simon rests in a coma, Bora tries to avoid exposing himself to the cops and his hot-blooded seamstress mom (Ronit Elkabetz), but he's soon beaten down by drug dealers angry that the neighborhood is now filled with roving reporters and police patrols.

Meanwhile, Simon's detective bro, Atom (Roschdy Zem), is conducting his own jaw-breaking investigation to find the culprit, but he's unaware that a local nutcase (Simon Abkarian) -- who lost his wife due to Simon's attack -- is also plotting revenge. As expected from such a dramatic structure, the various plot points eventually tie together, and somebody doesn't make it out alive.

There's a swell of different themes (social injustice, family secrets, coming-of-age struggles) presented here, and pic's major flaw is its attempt to give them all equal coverage rather than concentrating on the stronger ones. Bora's tale -- marked by lively performances from newcomer Makhlouf and Israeli actress-helmer Elkabetz ("The Seven Days") -- is an engrossing depiction of an immigrant youth's fight to save his skin and reputation while doing the right thing. But the various subplots involving Simon and Atom only hamper the overall narrative flow.

Washed-out, handheld imagery by Jean-Francois Hensgens ("District 13: Ultimatum") tends to overexpose the tense atmosphere, depicting the suburbs as a virtual no man's land where walking to school in broad daylight can be a highly treacherous affair.

French title is a play on both Bora's ethnic origins and the role he serves in the eyes of his family, friends and the larger community.

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Jean-Francois Hensgens; editor, Luc Barnier; music, Bruno Coulais; production designer, Denis Mercier; costume designer, Jacqueline Bouchard; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Pierre Tucat, Arnaud Rolland, Daniel Sobrino; assistant director, Olivier Coutard; casting, Nicolas Ronchi. Reviewed at UGC Cine Cite Les Halles 4, Paris, April 5, 2010. (In City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival.) Running time: 87 MIN.