2013 IIFF - Lifelong
Posted on Saturday April 13, 2013, 18:48 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
There’s not a lot of glitz and glamour at the Istanbul Film Festival. Paparazzi are thin on the ground, gala charity events are conspicuous by their absence; red carpets remain resolutely rolled up. This is a festival that makes its purpose plain: to announce that cinema as an art form is not only alive and well but positively thriving in Turkey and its environs. The emphasis here is on serious films made by serious filmmakers tackling serious subjects. The fact that contenders for the Golden Tulip Award (top prize in the International Competition) must have an overarching artistic theme or be adapted from a notable literary source could hardly be a clearer statement of intent. And it’s refreshing to be reminded that film not only has the ability to entertain but also to make you think, to confront often uncomfortable truths about the world around us and the vagaries of the human condition.
Take director Ash O[umlaut]zge’s Tulip contender Lifelong for example. Its subject is a successful married couple industriously deluding themselves and those around them that they lead a satisfactory life together. Their coming to terms with the fact that exactly the opposite is true is revealed by O[umlaut]zge in unsparing and quietly devastating fashion.
In an entirely different vein is Onur Ünlü’s Thou Gild’st The Even, a strange title for a strange film. In effect high-concept art house, it charts the fortunes of the residents of a small Anatolian town, all of whom possess what would in any other context be called superpowers - x-ray vision, telekinesis, the ability to freeze time and so on. In a complete reversal of the norm, however, the film does not dwell on how extraordinary they are but on how ordinary, how, in spite of their abilities, they are prone to just the same heartache and emotional turmoil as everyone else. “The film doesn’t define its characters as superheroes,” says Ünlü. “It argues that the essence of humanity would remain the same even if the world worked in such a way, that troubles, sorrows and anxieties of mankind wouldn’t be much different.”
Like a great many films shown at IIFF, Thou Gild’st The Even probably won’t be widely seen outside of the Middle East. In fact, Ünlü seems to have taken steps to make sure that it won’t be, shunning the standard machinery of marketing and distribution by only allowing it to be screened by universities and at Istanbul’s independent performing arts center Semaver Kumpanya. “I have attracted the attention of a certain group of audience,” he said at a post-screening Q&A yesterday, “which makes me happy. But honestly, I’m not making these films to be weird, I do what I feel like.”
Further evidence that the Turks, or certainly Istanbullions, take their cinema very seriously can be found in their reaction to the closing of the city’s iconic Emek movie theater, venue for many prestigious iIFF events in the past and publicly referenced with nostalgia and affection by several filmmakers at this year’s festival. This week, local film fans took to the street to protest the theatre’s demolition to make way for a shopping mall. Nothing particularly inspiring about that. But when you learn that they were subjected to a staggeringly brutal police response, involving baton charges, tear gas and water cannon, and are still planning to turn out again this Sunday admiration knows no bounds. Ask yourself this: where were you when your local Rialto caught Wetherspoons’ eye?