For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

Watch Award-Winning Films by Reha Erdem

The acclaimed Turkish director's work ranges from the blackly comic to the eerily poetic.
Times and Winds

We've just opened a virtual cinema featuring the work of Reha Erdem, ranging from the blackly comic to the eerily poetic (and we should note right at the top that not every film mentioned here will be viewable in every country; we do what we can). In the US, most were first introduced to Erdem when his Times and Winds, which had won the award for Best Film (as well as the FIPRESCI Prize) at the Istanbul International Film Festival in 2006, saw a limited theatrical run two years later before its release on DVD. It's "a film bewitched by the rhythms of everyday life in a remote Turkish village," wrote Ed Gonzalez in the Voice. "Erdem sees pain and love the same way he does the moon and sun — as constant, illuminating forces — and his camera pushes forward as if on an axis, peering at family and communal experience through the impressionable eyes of three pre-adolescents."

"Aching with the Górecki-like symphonic throbs of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the film suggests a version of Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive for the new millennium, even if its poetry outpaces Erice's," wrote Michael Atkinson in 2008. "You're never sure what's going on in these enigmatic images, or, really, between them (the characters do not express themselves openly), you're just sure you've never quite seen this particular brand of mysterious poetry before." In 2007, Michael Guillén, at the top of one of his excellent roundups, recalled being moved to tears: "I noticed a fellow a few seats away from me who kept staring at me with a bemused grin…" Of course, it turned out to be Erdem himself.

Erdem began picking up awards with his feature debut, Oh, Moon! (1989) when it screened at festivals in Locarno, Nantes, Moscow, Vancouver and Dunkerque. It's the tale of Yekta, an 11-year-old girl who lives in a mysterious, castle-like house on the shore of the Bosphorus and daydreams about her long-lost mother.

Erdem's second feature, Run for Money (1999), a black comedy about the insidious power of money, was Turkey's entry that year in the race for the Foreign Language Oscar. Mommy, I'm Scared (2004), also known as What Is a Human Anyway…, is another comedy set in contemporary Istanbul and indeed won the FIPRESCI prize in the National Competition at the 23rd International Istanbul Film Festival.

My Only Sunshine

In 2009, Italian journalist Giorgio Gosetti explained FIPRESCI's decision to present the same award to Erdem once again: "What made My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var [2008]) stand out was the precision with which it conveys the values of a larger movement of filmmakers belonging to the strange condition of a country making a thrilling passage from Asian tradition to European sensibility…. The story deals with the troubles endured by the fourteen-year-old Hayat, who lives with her father and grandfather in today's dangerous Bosporus. Her father owns a little fishing boat, using it for illegal traffic. Young Hayat's life is tough and merciless, but she resists falling into despair — even when she is raped, even when life shows her how indifferent and cruel it can be. This courage and hope, held against all odds, will lead Hayat to a sort of martyrdom — the dramatic and natural issue in this contemporary society, full of sound and fury — which she confronts without losing her faith in love, or people, or the future."

This opinion contains spoilers, beware if you haven’t viewed the film. With all due respect to Girgio Gosetti’s synopsis/review of My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var-2008), his subjective reading of the film is considerably off the mark. The Italian journalist states, “Young Hayat’s life is tough and merciless, but she resists falling into despair — even when she is raped, even when life shows her how indifferent and cruel it can be. This courage and hope, held against all odds, will lead Hayat to a sort of martyrdom — the dramatic and natural issue in this contemporary society, full of sound and fury — which she confronts without losing her faith in love, or people, or the future.” Luckily, young Hayat’s response to her tough and merciless life is not nearly so filled with piety and gladly-accepted self-sacrifice as the Gosetti quote may indicate. She hates her life. She probably kills her grandfather. When she finds that her pubescent sex appeal can be used to trade for candy, she allows the market owner to rub against her and ejaculate on her back, trading what she sees as the world’s marketable commodity, sex, for anything pleasant (in this case candy and soda pop), any substitute, even momentarily, away from her harsh inner loneliness. Gosetti continues, “This courage and hope, held against all odds, will lead Hayat to a sort of martyrdom . . . without losing her faith in love, or people, or her future.” Reha Erdem’s film however is much more of a truthful personal testament of reality, it’s terror and it’s poetry. He needn’t candy-coat his characters’ appraisals. This young girl has no hope: her family members use her for their own ends, or else ignore her and her emotional needs altogether. In one scene, in which her first menstrual blood leaves stains upon the bed sheets she receives a slap in the face from her mother. These acts of pain seemingly remove layer upon layer of childish ignorance (her desire for respect and love), instead, educating her to the sordid realities of adult existence—one filled alternately with boredom, danger and lack of spiritual attention. As surrogates, local prostitutes give her a few pointers on tomorrow’s possibilities of love and the future: love hurts; get what you can by selling or bartering sex and youth to any takers; content yourself with lipstick, perfume and cheap gaudy clothes. The young girl isn’t stupid, and realizes the prostitutes are probably telling the truth, sad as it is, and the end of the film shows her giving stolen money to a tough boy from the neighborhood, as a hooker might similarly give all she owns to her pimp to provide protection and care in a dangerous world. The film is all the better for its realistic ending, rather than a Hollywood formulaic ending, one which Gosetti seems to have conjured in his review—one overly positive, a glass-half-full style of summation. The film I saw, an eerie, artful, technically ingenious and thoughtful film, didn’t project a glass half-full for poor Hayat. Instead her future offered a glass empty of all but a few good times with controlling men, and a lifetime of draining poverty and squalid re-enactments of her own mother, and father, and grandfather, an entire social lineage of poverty and personal wreckage, all proudly Istanbulians, yet all sad as a girl’s life tossed away in a dirt field. The only modicum of affection in the last reel comes from a battery-powered furry toy animal which incessantly repeats “I Love You,” each time Hayat steps on it. Within a sequence which films her speeding past the Turkish tankers in a stolen boat with her erstwhile boyfriend/pimp, we finally see the enactment of this girl’s childish dream. But, in reality, her faith and her future has been tossed overboard like slop into the Bosphorus, and she knows it, most assuredly, she knows.
Deleted
Nice review. You should post it on the film’s page. Sounds like the film inherited some of the spirit of “Mouchette”.

Please to add a new comment.

Latest News