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Turkish films try to push at boundaries

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. (AP/Joel Ryan,file)

Heres' a contest: Name just one Turkish movie. (And here's a hint: Midnight Express doesn’t count.) If your mind is a blank, don’t despair. Turkish cinema is struggling to establish an identity. It’s part of what Landscapes: A Tour of Recent Turkish Cinema, a series opening September 9th at the Siskel Film Center, is all about. 

Like Turkey the country, Turkish cinema is multi-layered. There is a hilarious genre known as the “Turkish Sci-Fi Rip-off Cinema,” with such priceless characters as the Turkish Superman; Badi, the Turkish ET; and Seytan, the Turkish Terrorist.

Theirs is a broad, popular, largely melodramatic cinema. And there is a growing “independent” Turkish cinema, which is quite intellectual, and some of which deals with the anxieties, misaligned relationships, infidelities and betrayals of the middle-class. Its most recognized and much-awarded filmmaker is Nuri Bilge Ceylan (often referred to by Turks as “N.B.C.”), who has won at the Cannes Film Festival and whose most recent film is Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

The films in the Landscapes program veer across a spectrum of themes and styles. In the opening weekend film Love in Another Language, the feisty your Zeynep works as a telemarketer in a phone boiler room and falls for Onur, a good-looking deaf-mute. Their one-night stand turns into a relationship challenged by Onur’s unresolved past with his parents and Zeynep’s attempts to organize her co-workers in a protest for better working conditions. The second opening weekend film, Our Grand Despair, is more oblique. Two buddies, Cetin and Ender, take in Sayin, a friend’s grief-stricken sister, after her parents die in a car accident. Their male bond is put to a test both by having to care for an unstable young woman, and by both of them falling for Sayin.

An outstanding film in the series is Polluting Paradise, directed by Fatih Akin (who was born and works almost exclusively in Germany). In this documentary, Akin returns to  his parents’ home town of Carmburnu, where a massive garbage landfill pollutes the soil, water and air and the residents fight an unmoving bureaucracy. Honey, directed by Semih Kaplanoglu, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It is a beautiful, rich and sensitive portrait of a rural childhood, largely seen through the eyes of a six-year-old boy with a speech impediment, whose father keeps beehives deep in the forest.

Landscapes: A Tour of Recent Turkish Cinema opens September 9th at the Siskel Film Center.

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