Updated: May 9, 2019
*Possible spoilers for Carpisma and Cukur.
When we see a really good movie or series we automatically applaud the actors and the screenwriters. Because after all, it is the screenwriters that create the story and the actors that bring the plot to life. But the truth is, without the vision of the director, the story is just words on paper, and the actors are mimes. We have the likes of James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola here in the West. Cameron's Titanic, Hitchcock's Rebecca and Coppola's The Godfather revolutionized movies with their depth, breadth and vision. Cameron with his ethereal sensibilities, Hitchcock with his psychological meanderings, and Coppola with his graphic portrayal.
I'm convinced that in Turkey, the new revolutionary directors are Cem Karci, Uluc Bayraktar and Sinan Ozturk. Now, I'll admit I am no expert in this area; I'm just a spectator in the audience. But for the past two years (since I've been watching Turkish dizis), I've been trying to find parallels between film direction in Turkish series and film direction that I'm used to here in the States. Sometimes I get glimpses of similarities, but then something happens and I'm left in awe. The shows I'm watching now are Cukur (Sinan Ozturk), Carpisma (Uluc Bayraktar) and Hercai (Cem Karci). In Cukur which I've written about before, the similarities to The Godfather are striking.
Like Coppola, Ozturk doesn't hold back on graphic violence, foul language, and appalling exploits. In a recent episode of Cukur we watched one of the lead characters (Sena) drown in a vat of water while her husband helplessly watched. But it doesn't end there. After you watch that poor woman drown in front of her desperate husband, you see him fall into a million pieces. You can feel his torment, his guilt, and his trauma. Ozturk spends an entire episode getting into the mind of the surviving spouse. So that when you are done watching, you have forgotten the horrid act, but are now focused on the survivor. How will he get over this shock? What is his next move? Is it revenge or is it withdrawal? Coppola in his brilliance didn't achieve that.. but perhaps it's because Ozturk has had more than 60 episodes of two and half hours to build up to this. Throughout the series, Ozturk uses music ranging from Turkish rap to traditional music, camera speed adjustment and clever editing to give the sense of nervous excitement.
Uluc Bayraktar's Carpisma is another beauty. It starts out as a police drama... sort of. There is a cop and there is a crime, but then of course, the story takes many different turns. In Carpisma, Bayraktar delves into the question of ultimate betrayal. A man takes the life of his own grandchild. There are circumstances around this of course, and they are part of the story, but nearing its completion, the focus of the series is on this fact: How can a father atone for the heinous sins against his son; and can the son ever accept or forgive his father. The son, played by Kivanc Tatlitug is unaware that his daughter's killer is his own father. In fact, he doesn't know he has a father. On the other hand, the father knows his son. And the father knows what he has done. How the burden of this knowledge weighs on the father, and how he aims to correct his sin are brilliantly portrayed in the director's vision. In one episode while he sits across from his son, the man says "Sons always come back to their fathers. Sometimes in love and sometimes in hatred. I know that my fate is hatred." Interestingly, we are not left wondering what the son's reaction will be when he realizes the truth, but how the father will react. Bayrakter is no stranger to such dilemmas. His brilliant direction of the classic series Karadayi delved into questions of forgiveness in the face of betrayal between loved ones. But in this series, it is the case that neither the father nor the son have had a chance to know each other, and therefore do not love each other. In this story Bayraktar explores the blood bond that must exist between a father and his son.
In Hercai we see the psychological elements so strong in Hitchcock's productions. The brilliance of the screenwriting aside, the vision of the director is awe-inspiring. Karci initially presents the hero of the story as a villain. Miran, in his quest for vengeance, has targeted an innocent girl, Reyyan. Of course, there is a love story, since Miran's revenge takes an unexpected turn. He falls in love with Reyyan. But what is unique about this story is the deep struggle that exists within Miran who as a child was emotionally abused and manipulated by his grandmother (the true villainess of this story). The psychological torture Miran (who is basically a kindhearted and good person) had to endure to become the monster is brilliantly portrayed through Karci's direction. Karci uses a combination of lighting, scenery and coloring to give the sense of desperation experienced by the hero. Even the character placement in the scenes contributes to the sense of desolation. Karci's ample use of close ups and camera angles (reminiscent of Hitchcockean thrillers) lends itself to creating a deeper understanding of the characters and draws you into their pysche. One moment dark and melancholy and the next moment fairy tale-like, Karci takes you on a journey through the hero's struggles leaving you gasping at the end of each episode.
In Turkish drama all directors, but particularly these three, take advantage of deep emotions. It is common place to see strong virile men break into tears and fall unabashedly at the feet of their loved ones. Surprisingly, this phenomenon does not give the appearance of weakness. Most probably because we see the strength of these characters in other facets of their lives. The violence in Turkish series is not senseless like we see in many Hollywood productions, for even the most odious thug has a motivation for his violence. Be it for revenge, or for honor, or for power. With a budget that is most likely a fraction of what Hollywood has to make its shows, and with the natural raw materials they have to work with, these directors have created worlds where the audience can truly know the characters, feel their anguish and joy, and rejoice in their triumphs.
North American audiences are discovering these directors, now its time for Hollywood to notice.
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