Stars of Turkish TV drama shine at the 59th Antalya Film Festival

The Turkish selection at this year's festival featured "several films that treated the subject of the city-country divide that has been a big theme since the early days of Turkish cinema," as Naghihan Haliloğlu writes from Antalya.
Stars of Turkish TV drama shine at the 59th Antalya Film Festival

The 59th edition of the Antalya Film Festival wrapped up on the 8th of October with a glamorous ceremony, and saw Emin Alper’s film Burning Days, about a young prosecutor’s misadventures in a small town in Anatolia, swooping up 9 awards in the national competition. The most dramatic moment of the evening was naturally the announcement of the last award for the best Turkish feature film. After getting the award in 9 categories already, everyone thought the award would go to Burning Days but it went, instead, to Black Night by Ersin Çelik and Bülent Makar, about a young man who comes back to his village to be with his dying mother and tries to investigate a lynching incident he too was involved in several years ago. The film also received the award for best script.

The Turkish selection at the festival had several films that treated the subject of the city-country divide that has been a big theme since the early days of Turkish cinema. This is a trusted formula that new film makers are trying to rearticulate from different angles. Another winner in the national competition was Snow and the Bear, where, this time, it is a nurse who comes to the countryside to ‘serve’ the locals, an effort that delivers very unexpected results. Merve Dizdar (pictured above), from the hugely popular TV drama The Innocents received the best actress award for her portrayal of the well-meaning nurse.

The crossover between TV drama and the festival was also felt in the Turkish short film selection. Antalya film goers must have been alerted to the fact that the shorts were pretty ambitious this year, as the films played to full houses.

One of the actors from the much-discussed Turkish drama Ethos, Esme Madra, was in the shorts program both as director and actor. Her Stormers is an inspired piece of film making where we witness the love language of two young people and where the narrative ends with a dance. Madra also starred in Emre Birişmen’s Tower where two young women are having role-playing story time, locking themselves into a plot in order to ward off the fact that one of them has to move abroad. 

Another short that had a strong TV connection, this time in terms of theme, was Benhür Bolhava’s The Sheep, about sheep seller Bekir who has a small pen in a small wasteland among high rises in Istanbul. The smallness of his ‘farm’ and venture compared to the ‘business’ conducted in the plazas above his head provide a perfect commentary on the ways in which Istanbul has ‘developed’ in recent decades. The script does not make this commentary explicit and follows its own black comedy theme of Bekir trying to find his lost sheep under motorway bridges and plaza backyards, with exquisite shots of the urban infrastructure, juxtaposed with his tiny moped. The Sheep’s side story of a 90-year-old granny who has committed suicide has an affinity with the new wave black comedy series As If that has changed the face of comedy in Turkey in the last couple of years. In As If, the granny is eaten (yes, you read that right) by an Erasmus exchange student.

The best film award for shorts, however, went to Barış Kefeli & Nükhet Taneri’s You All & I Alone, set during a night of a power cuts, and a special jury award was given to Özgürcan Uzunyaşa’s Hell is Empty, All the Devils Are Here about an actress’s life on and off the stage getting mixed up, with much running and stumbling over backstage architecture and hostile (male) colleagues, a metaphor for the difficulties faced by an aspiring actress.

Like the Turkish selection, the international films included stories about clashing cultures and about people being uprooted from their known surroundings. The best film prize was awarded to the Bolivian director Martín Boulocq’s The Visitor, where the cultural clash is between the evangelical form of Christianity and locals, and how this clash leads to further rifts between the social classes. Best director was awarded to Damian Kocu’s Bread and Salt, another story of the values of the big city being tested in a small village, this time in a Polish setting. The Beasts, about a French couple who settle in a small Galician village, received the best actress nod for Marina Foïs’s performance, and the best actor was awarded to Pejman Jamshidi in his role in Dustland, about an interrogator in a very complex court case, one of those Iranian films where characters are put into impossible situations and the actors have to deliver all kinds of emotional upheaval in their performance. My personal favorite was The Quiet Girl, the first film I have watched in Irish. It is about a girl from a very disadvantaged family going to live with some relatives one summer and the secrets she discovers. The plot may not sound like much but director Colm Bairéad creates a whole world that feels enchanted and ordinary at the same time.

This year's festival took place from the 1-8 October in Antalya, Turkiye.

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