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.
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 ) 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."