Look at the Contemporary Turkish Cinema
people, once described by master director Lütfi Ömer
Akad as experts “only on Turkish cinema and in finding
ways to profit themselves,” in general look down on Turkish
cinema. Turkish cinema is historically known as Yeşilçam
(signified by the GreenPine Street in Istanbul where Turkish
cinema industry is located). On many occasions people have referred
to unbelievably ridiculous situations as “just like a
Turkish film…” However, films about sad bald singers
and blind violinists --who go blind after banging their head--
were long left behind by the 1990’s. Furthermore, films
representing contemporary Turkish cinema have become better
than ninety percent of Hollywood films shown each year in Turkey,
but it will take time for the average mainstream viewer to notice
expected, many good films such as Gizli Yüz, Anayurt
Oteli (Ömer Kavur), Yol (şerif Gören),
Sis (Zülfü Livaneli), Piano Piano Bacaksız,
Uçurtmayı Vurmasınlar (Tunç
Başaran), Mavi Sürgün (Erden Kıral),
Muhsin Bey, Gölge Oyunu (Yavuz Turgul), Hakkari’de
Bir Mevsim (Ertem Eğilmez), Züğürt
Ağa (Nesli Çölgeçen), Müthiş
Bir Tren, Sevmek Zamanı (Metin Erksan), Özlem
Düne... Bugüne... Yarına... (Tülay
Eratalay) received their deserved recognition years later. Though
some had good attendance at the time, many went unnoticed.
a long time, Turkish cinema meant “Yeşilçam
cinema”. Alternative movements to Yeşilçam
cinema such as New Filmmakers, Young Filmmakers or
Independent Filmmakers have not had the significant
impact that Soviet Formists, Italian New Realists, French
Neo-Realists, French New Wave, American Independent Filmmakers,
German Expressionists, Dogmatists have shown(1).
What has lately been termed Independent Filmmakers
will not likely take root as a significant notion because it
doesn’t provide a satisfying answer to the following questions:
Is there an industry (infrastructure) to be independent of?
2) If such an industry exists, in what ways are they independent
3) How is the director’s independence emphasized (expressed)?
4) What are the measures that make a director or film independent?
is able to produce only a few films each year. I estimate it
is likely that the number will increase in coming years. Whether
we call it Yeşilçam cinema or Turkish cinema,
this article is dealing with cinema that has no agreed upon
basic measures or characteristics.
we look at Turkish cinema under the scope of Yeşilçam
films, we find that, though inadequate, there are certain
basic characteristics that set it apart. These characteristics
are the commonly agreed “rich girl – poor boy”
theme, and the (in my opinion overused) pitiful themes. However,
these ideas are insufficient in describing Turkish cinema in
relation to the world of film in general. There are many examples
of films that can be termed poetic, musical, historical,
real historical, sociological, adventure, and even avant-garde
(though these terms may be inadequate in defining the type of
films it is meant to be).
’s motif of rich girl – poor boy (sometimes the
reverse) can be characterized from the girl’s perspective
as such (Scognamillo, 2004: 32):
The girl is poor and works. She is sick or handicapped.
2) The girl is rich and rebellious. Her father is strict and
3) Middle class girl has a good voice. Her fate is to be discovered.
4) The girl is the most beautiful in her neighborhood and she
lives through terrible events. She is betrayed by the boy and
5) The girl lives with her mother, she uses borrowed money to
make herself look richer than she is and aspires for a wealthier
lifestyle. Her fate is to meet someone in similar circumstances.
They will either be happy together as they are, or win the lottery.
Perhaps a distant relative will leave them a fortune.
for the boy’s perspective:
The boy is a factory worker who wants to marry his sweetheart.
He meets a rich girl, when he realizes she is promiscuous and
worthless as a person, he goes back to his sweetheart.
2) The boy’s sweetheart aspires to riches. The girl gets
involved with a good looking but degenerate guy. As she is about
to be sold to a brothel, the boy saves her; they marry.
3) Bad boy falls in love with a beautiful girl. He is in conflict
with a crime boss; a) if the girl has been raped, she is shot
or commits suicide; otherwise they get married; b) the crime
boss kills the girl and her lover.
4) Poor boy with a naïve sweetheart from the neighborhood
falls for a vamp woman. He regrets the dirty deeds he has done
and is set to return to his sweetheart, but the police are after
him. He is shot and dies in his sweetheart’s arms.
we are to examine contemporary Turkish cinema, it is better
to start at the end and go to the beginning. Let the debate
on whether Fatih Akın’s Duvara Karşı
(Against the Wall, Gegen die Wand) is a German film or
a Turkish film continue. The fact is that it won awards in Berlin
where master filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Theo Angelopoulos
compete, and this should not be belittled. Duvara Karşı
is a pure (unadulterated) Turkish film, or more accurately,
a Yeşilçam film. Coincidences and unexpected
developments, a basic theme of Yeşilçam
movies, await us in Duvara Karşı. In fact
those coincidences are the spinal cord of this movie.
from this most recent example, some of the most significant
directors and films of contemporary Turkish cinema can be listed
as such: Müthiş Bir Tren (An Amazing Train), Sevmek
Zamanı (Time for Love) (Metin Erksan), Anayurt
Oteli (Hotel Anayurt), Gizli Yüz (Hidden Face), Karşılaşma
(The Encounter) (Ömer Kavur), Selvi Boylum Al
Yazmalım (The Girl with the Red Scarf) (Atıf
Yılmaz), Özlem Düne... Bugüne... Yarına...
(Yearning for Yesterday… Today… Tomorrow…)
(Tülay Eratalay), Yol (Road) (şerif
Gören), Gölge Oyunu (Shadow Game) (Yavuz
Turgul), Mavi Sürgün (Blue Exile) (Erden
Kıral), Piano Piano Bacaksız, Uçurtmayı
Vurmasınlar (Don’t Let Them Shoot the Kite)
(Tunç Başaran), Züğürt
Ağa (Nesli Çölgeçen), Hakkari’de
Bir Mevsim (A Season in Hakkari), Arabesk (Arabesque) (Ertem
Eğilmez), all the films of Zeki Demirkubuz and
Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
to the nature of cinema, it is impossible to classify and generalize
an entire national cinema as a certain type of cinema. In my
opinion, the same is true for all art, especially literature
and visual arts. Instead of talking about Turkish cinema then,
we may be better off examining the works of specific directors
for a more meaningful evaluation. However, it is difficult to
find generalizing values even in the works of the accepted master
directors of Turkish cinema such as Metin Erksan and Ömer
Kavur. It has even been claimed that Gizli Yüz (Hidden
Face) is a postmodern film (Atam, 2004: 127-131). In my
opinion it is not useful to look for general values across different
films. Film-creations must be perceived as a whole. Just as
one cannot add in a scene or delete one from a film (as it would
be a different film then), every film (with the exception of
series/sequel films) is independent. Each film is a whole unto
itself, but simultaneously relates to other films in the ways
it uses references and the way references function. However,
the relationship and similarities that we try so hard to identify
are not too relevant, and therefore I argue that the effort
to relate films to each other is a futile one.
about the films of Zeki Demirkubuz and Nuri Bilge Ceylan that
have become prominent in recent years? Their views, efforts,
expectations from cinema, what they give back to cinema, and
expression of their own character within their films are on
one side of the spectrum; and those who approach filmmaking
like a form of manufacturing of goods are on the other side.
Considering directors who strive to create works of art like
Bergman, Kurosawa, Welles, Spielberg, Resnais, Godard, Bunuel,
Manchevski, Fellini, Angelopoulos, Tarkovski; it becomes obvious
that a shallow person would be incapable of creating such quality
films. Following in the footsteps of Metin Erksan, Ömer
Kavur, Tunç Başaran, Erden Kıral, Tülay
Eratalay, Yavuz Turgul, Şerif Gören, Ertem Eğilmez,
Yusuf Kurçenli, Nesli Çölgeçen who
are considered founders of contemporary Turkish cinema; Zeki
Demirkubuz, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Serdar Akar and Ahmet Uluçay
have become the standard bearers of it today. It is only befitting
that young directors I mentioned above are not directors choosing
to simply film a radio play, rather they are people who have
issues with life and they are trying to recreate their dreams
through cinematography. Therefore they are the ones who can
take over the torch from directors like Erksan and Kavur.
(2004: 22) also agrees with this account. “The development
of two separate lines of Turkish cinema has recently become
even more differentiated. On the one hand we have a Turkish
cinema where some people benefit from star power through commercial
films, enjoy an increasing audience interest in such productions,
and gain greater returns in their investment. On the other hand
we have a cinema through which directors narrate more personal,
yet relatable human stories. Those are the directors who can
reproduce three, at most five copies of their films, and are
trying to find a niche for themselves. One of the most productive
representatives of this line of Turkish cinema is Zeki Demirkubuz,”
whose sixth film, Bekleme Odası (the Waiting
Room), is now in theaters. Turkish cinema was based on
star power until a generation of filmmakers, who refused to
go where the wind blew and insisted on their personal approach
to art of filmmaking, arrived on the scene. For the audience,
star power is still important and many people make their choices
based on who is starring in a particular movie.
a short article on contemporary Turkish cinema is like trying
to summarize a thick dissertation. There are many important
aspects to its development, such as the transition from Yeşilçam
to contemporary cinema, changes in dialogue structures in scripts,
lighting and ambience that creates meaning and feeling(2),
a break from star movies in favor of an era of directors’
cinema, directors who play with language and editing in clever
and not so literal ways etc. This article simply made an attempt
to look at Turkish cinema in its basic structure and historical
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Cengis Temuçin. (1996). Sinemada Diyalektik Kurgu
(Dialectical Editing in Cinema). Yayınlanmamış
Yüksek Lisans tezi (Masters thesis). Ankara. A.Ü.
Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü.
Cengis Temuçin (2003). Sinema Dili şiir Dili:
Sinemada şiirsel Anlatım Olanakları (Poetic Language
in Cinema: Opportunities for Poetic Narration in Cinema).
Yayınlanmamış Doktora Tezi (Ph.D. dissertation).
Ankara. A.Ü. Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü.
Zahit. (2003-2004). “Ömer Kavur ile Görüşme
– (Temel meselem ölümle hesaplaşmaktı)
(Interview with Ömer Kavur).” Yeni Sinema.İstanbul,
John.M. (1980). Toward a Structural Psychology of Cinema.
Mouton Publishers. The Hague, The Netherlands.
Atilla. (1999). 100 Yılın 100 Filmi. İstanbul.
Yusuf. (2004). “Zeki Demirkubuz Sineması–
Yeraltından Notlar (Cinema of Zeki Demirkubuz- Notes from
Underground).” Film. Nisan – Haziran (April-June
Issue). İstanbul. Pp. 22-28.
Giovanni. (2004). “Yeşilçam Mitolojisi
(Mythology of Yeşilçam).” Film. Nisan
– Haziran (April-June Issue), İstanbul. Pp. 33 –
here to go back to your place in the article.
(1) Since the aim of this article
is not to inform about various film movements, you can find
detailed information about these movements at ABISEL, 1989 –
ASILTURK, 1996 – DORSAY, 1999 – CARROL, 1980.
(2) In my opinion Turkish cinema
is where it is today thanks to meticulous lighting directors
like Recep Biçer.
(Translated by Bahar Engür)