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Black Nights Film Festival – Young Tallinnts
Review: Life is a Karnaval,
By Olga Konkova
Watching two Turkish films screening at the Black Nights Film Festival made me think about the future of cinema – could it be that someday it will be hard for an audience to guess what country did the film directors come from? The Turkish films have convinced me that it is possible. The first one I watched was the Lifelong (Hayatboyu) by Asli Özge which is a very feminine, calmly beautiful and dramatically strung film reminiscent of much European fare. In turn, Can Kilcioglu's debut feature Karnaval makes the audience think of American independent cinema. This year, the Turkish film industry seems to really be fighting the stereotypes often associated with countries with a small cinematic output.
Karnaval tells us about an immature 30-year-old man, who is trying to survive in the world of adults all by himself, but it seems to be a lot more difficult than living with the parents and working in a family business. Living in a car and taking showers at his friend's home, Ali Sinan (Serdar Orçin) – who states "..my friends call me Alis" – still hopes for the best and is certain he will not return home.
From the moment Alis decides to become a sales rep, he is carrying a vacuum cleaner called "Karnaval" with him all the time. This device is more like a sign of his independence than a product Alis will ever be able to sell. He starts to hope for happiness, when he meets a powerful and pretty woman called Demet (Tülin Özen), who also has problems with taking responsibilities – she has too many of them. They are incredibly different, but both aiming to change their lives. Maybe it will be possible together...
The story about a man who cannot grow up is actually a sad story. The saddest thing about Alis is that he, just like Alice in Wonderland who does not much care where she wants to go, did not have a dream. But what is really nice about this film is that Can Kilcioglu tells us a sad story without being serious. He jokes a lot, he puts in a lot of irony, because, really, why should we take this life seriously?
The cast is perfect: Orçin's sadness and weakness are natural and at the same time, his smile is more sincere than children have. Özen is convincing, wi th self-confidence in every move. Mention must also be made of the outstanding work of Ipek Bilgin who plays Alis’ mother – she is a real embodiment of the mother's care and love.
The cinematography of Karnaval is less successful – at some moments it is rather jittery and obvious. It strives for realism but only succeeds in making it difficult to watch the film comfortably.
Karnaval is about how life keeps harmony and how everyone can find a fitting person for himself. Of course, sometimes changes are necessary, but there is also nothing wrong about constancy. We all will get the right places, so stop taking this life seriously. (Olga Konkova)
Karnaval had its international premiere in this year’s edition of the POFF International Official Competition Eurasia. The movie, about a thirty-something mama’s boy, is director Can Kilcioglu’s feature debut. I met the young Turkish filmmaker to talk to him about the art of growing up, the downsides of family and the definition of success.
Sophie: This is your first feature film. How did it come to life?
Can: I started to write the script for Karnaval four years ago and it took me two years and many rewrites. I shot in Izmir, which is my hometown. I was born there.
Sophie: The story deals with the topic of family. Is there a connection to your personal life?
Can: When I was 15, I had some friends who were sales reps for vacuum cleaners. They had to carry this huge machine everywhere because it is so expensive. They also came to my mother’s house and we all watched the show that they put on to make a deal. It's bizarre. That's where the idea came from.
Sophie: To me, it felt like a coming-of-age movie.
Can: Yes, it is also a story about growing up. Alis as well as Demet depend very much on their families. They cannot do what they want.
Sophie: Is that something that the young Turkish generation of today is dealing with?
Can: Actually, yes. Maybe I exaggerated a bit, but there is an issue like that. If you are not married or you do not have a job, you have to live with your family. There is no other option. Also, in many families, there are those roles instead of identities. I mean roles such as being a student, a man, a father, etc. If you don’t have a job or a wife your family looks at you like you are weird. You have to do those things perfectly.
Sophie: When Alis visits his family, everyone is crazy about the baby poo while he seems to be very uninvolved. Does his alienation stem from the pressure you just talked about?
Can: Yes. He has a brother who is the star child of the family. He is married, he is doing the same job as the father and has a child. He is the perfect guy. Being a man is so important in the family that even the baby's poo is something sacred. That's an exaggeration, but I actually saw a scene like that in real life.
Sophie: The pace of that scene is very different from the rest of the movie. It is a lot faster, things become chaotic.
Can: In that scene we understand why Alis is the way he is. If you live in a family like that you do not have another option. In the beginning of the movie, we think he is a strange man, but when we see that scene, Alis is a normal guy there. His family is way stranger than he is.
Sophie: There is the brother, his baby son and the sacred poo on the one hand and the very soft hero on the other. Is there some kind masculinity issue here?
Can: Somebody told me that there are no sexes in the relationship of Demet and Alis. I think I tried to do something like that, because in love there is no sex. He is a man, but he doesn't act like a "real" man. The same is true for the girl. They fall in love with each other not because they are of the opposite sex but because they are the people they are in terms of character.
Sophie: Actually they are very different characters. Alis is very soft, while Demet is quite strong and determined.
Can: When I write a script, I write the protagonist first. I feel him and I live with him during that period. I felt that Alis needed someone like Demet. They are like yin and yang, completing each other. You can say that they are contrasting characters, but at the same time they are very similar. Both of them are afraid of being independent.
Sophie: Does the film want them to leave their families?
Can: It's not a solution to leave home and not see your family any more. But maybe one of the solutions might be to become really independent, not only leaving the house. Alis's mother for example is very controlling. He cannot move, because she does everything for him. Maybe he should get out of this jail. The film is dealing with the idea of success. What is success? Does success mean to have a job or to be married? No, maybe success does not mean to have money, but to have a girl like Demet.
Sophie: Will the movie be released in Turkey?
Can: It has already been released.
Sophie: Did people like it?
Can: They liked it a lot. But there is a huge distribution problem in Turkey. It is hard to find theatres to show your film, because they are all full of Hollywood movies. And there is this system: If the movie doesn't perform well in the first three days, it will be taken out of the programme the following week. We started in 17 theatres but in the second week it was only one theatre.
To paraphrase Can: Maybe success does not mean to make a box office hit but to make a movie like Karnaval.
Interview by Sophie Charlotte Rieger
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This quote appears in the first chapter of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden". Thoreau gives account about his deliberate exclusion from society in the two years that he lived in the woods near the now famous Walden Pond. But Thoreau had a choice, most of the characters in yesterday's special screening "Best of Sleepwalkers" didn't. Every year the International Student & Short Film Festival Sleepwalkers tries to present exciting short films to the audience and promote upcoming filmmakers early in their careers. Yesterday's special screening presented the most exciting films of the competition.
The screening was kicked off by Gabriel Gauchet's The Mass of Men, which also features the above Thoreau quote. Richard (Peter Faulkner) is three minutes too late for his appointment at the job centre, which causes the loss of his allowance for two weeks. His adviser is convinced that he should be penalised for his laziness, even if she didn’t notice his lateness. Gauchet's film gains its strength by its Kafkaesque tension. Richard sees himself at the mercy of an inhuman system in which success is just a matter of your attitude towards it. The film ends with a burst of violence, which leaves the audience with mixed feelings. We root for the underdog and his fight against a cruel system and are shocked by the bloodshed.
Gauchet depicts how the unemployed are struggling with a system, while in Jan Erik Nõgisto's and Katrin Maimik's Photo (Foto) the poor struggle with each other. Maarit (Helen Ehandi), a woman in her early thirties, is sacrificing all her time to nurse her disabled father until she meets Rainer, a young boy who lives in her block. Despite her misanthropic father (Arvo Kukumägi), who constantly derides the boy, a peculiar friendship begins. Thoreau's "quiet desperation" is a perfect term for Maarit. She is longing for love and a child. Photo is a deeply romantic film about isolated life in the city and the desire for love. However, Nõgisto doesn't romanticise the lives of the working class. As The Mass of Men it advocates solidarity, in this case on a personal level.
"Desperation" is not only a general unhappiness, it's also a lack of hope. Hence, it is engraved on the entrance to the gates of hell in Dante's "Divine Comedy". In Chema García Ibarras's Mystery (Misterio), a woman finally overcomes her desperation and tries to live her dream. Ibarras's film relies heavily on its cinematography – every image is beautifully composed. If you have a good look, you can see the desperation with which the woman is living in every little detail. The Nazi flag belonging to her retarded son, the stray cat that she loves but due to her allergies never touches, her sick husband, who doesn't say a word. It is a beautiful film about the unlimited dreams of very limited people – both financially and mentally. Mystery also presents another way to overcome exclusion – faith. Her faith may not save her in the end. But at least she tried.
The Sleepwalkers Festival tried, too. And succeeded. The Best of Sleepwalkers screening proved that Student & Short Films are still the best way to find new and exciting filmmakers. (Christian Alt)
One of this year’s Black Nights Film Festival highlights will bethe European premiere of Spike Lee’s new feature film Oldboy. Screening on Wednesday, 27th November, 19:00 at Tallinn’s Coca-Cola Plaza, the film is an American remake of the critically acclaimed, 2004 Cannes Grand Prix winning South Korean film directed by Park Chan-wook. One of the most anticipated movies of 2013, the European premiere is something of a coup for the festival.
Speaking exclusively to FIPRESCI Helmut Jänes, a programmer at the Black Nights Film Festival, said: "The fact that the European premiere of Oldboy is taking place at the Black Nights Film festival] is a huge sign of the trust and reliability of the whole festival. To get the rights of the film was not easy but we managed to get the agreement with the Estonian distributor to get the rights to screen the film as the European premiere few days earlier before it starts to screen across European cinemas."
Oldboy depicts the story of Joe Doucett(played by Josh Brolin) who has been kidnapped and held as prisoner for twenty years without any explanation. When he is finally released, Joe sets off on a journey to find the kidnapper and to get the answers to the questions from the past that he is haunted by.
The film received its World Premiere in New York on 11th November and Baltic distribution is currently being handled by Acme Film (www.acmefilm.ee).
It has been a rich year for Estonian film — six feature films and as many documentaries alongside some excellent short films and animations have come to the big screen, an impressive figure for the relatively small Baltic country. But one of the most spectacular of the films is Tangerines – the first film collaboration between Georgia and Estonia.
Tangerines is a tragic story taking place in the middle of the complicated war in Georgia. Two opposition fighters — a Georgian (Mikheil Meskhi) and an Abkhazian (Giorgi Nakashidze) – clash on the doorstep of an unaligned Estonian. Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak) becomes a kind of father figure to the soldiers, trying to reconcile the two fighting litigants and by doing that, reveals piece by piece his own tragic story and the reason why he alone is not going to flee to Estonia.
It seems unbelievable, that the well-set script of Tangerines was written in only two weeks. In 2009, during the Georgian film week in Tallinn, Zaza Urushadze's third feature film Three Houses (Sami Sakhli) was screened. Artur Veeber, Tangerines developing-director-to-be, asked Urushadze whether he knew about the old Estonian villages in Abkhazia — the blooming gardens as they were once called — and if he'd want to make a film about it. Urushadze started exploring the subject and concluded that not only Abkhazians and Georgian were harmed during the war of independence in the early 1990s, but Estonians as well. "It affected everyone," he has said.
Abkhazians have a tragic and bitter history and Urushadze reflects that in a delicate way, trying not to choose sides or express any opinions. "If you start doing propaganda, art goes to waste." he has stated. It is noteworthy that instead of an Abkhazian, Urushadze used a Chechen in the script. It can be seen as a so-called politically correct move, because most Chechens fought as mercenaries, so it somewhat softens the confrontation. But it also has a dramaturgical effect as Abkhazians are chiefly Christian and Chechens are mainly Muslim. So not only are the two soldiers fighting on different sides, but they also oppose in religion, which is a sharp conflict.
Tangerines is categorized as a war drama, but what’s most beautiful is that it's not actually about war. Instead it raises the question of how to stay humane in war — in that sense it's a simple yet beautiful story. Urushadze subtly suggests that no person has the right to decide over somebody else’s life or death, yet he doesn't lecture us excessively. The morality is not overstated — it sinks in slowly and through details.
Tangerines is fascinatingly bilateral — it’s a genuine Georgian film, which carries a strong Caucasian spirit and yet in the same time it captures the very essence of Estonians too. The work between the actors and director and pedant polishing of details brings out some kind of synergy and a fathomable entity common for both nations.
Urushadze creates a profoundly Estonian and beautifully peaceful little world in the middle of the Georgian mountains and landscapes and the chaos, which has its own pace apart from the ongoing war. The dreadful conflict is subtly felt, yet it stays distant and remote. The lush tangerine plantation is like a little oasis in the middle of the cold mountains and muddy roads and every single fruit is like a little flaming sun, representing vitality and hope.
The cinematography by Rein Kotov is stunning and visually adds to the story — every frame has depth and makes the conjuncture perceptible. Meanwhile, the heartrending soundtrack by Niaz Diasamidze which gets stuck in the viewers' head and becomes one of the trademarks for Tangerines.
Although the film has a fixed pace it doesn’t become dull. Urushadze skillfully plays with the viewers' emotions and unexpectedly changes the tone. Quiet and thoughtful scenes are cut in half by bombs and shooting, which bring distress and despair. At every point where the viewer starts to hope for a happy ending, another grenade drops and awakens the viewer with calamity.
Urushadze uses black humour in an intelligent way and therefor avoids unnecessary pathos. Through humour he makes painful things even more painful and yet somehow eases some gruesome aspects of the complicated story. For example, the character of Margus (Elmo Nüganen) is humorous and sad at the same time — the good-natured peasant neighbour of Ivo's is both pessimistic and naïve. His obsession with the tangerines is not driven by poverty or greed, only the sad thought of letting such a beautiful crop go to waste. At the same time, it's a tremendous metaphor for the young men going to waste in war.
When the rest of the film is coherent and well-set in details, the key scene, where the four protagonists sit around a fire and grill shashlik, seems a bit robust. Otherwise, calm and right-minded Ivo hastily suggests a toast for death as for usually in Georgia the first toast is for life. As for the rest of the film, Ulfsak plays his role pitch-perfectly, but that little moment seems to be a bit unpolished and comes out rough.
The ending soundtrack "Kagaldis navi" meaning "Paper ship", by the (in)famous Georgian musician, poet and writer Irakli Charkvian, who died under unknown circumstances on the 24th February 2006, was a popular song during Abkhazian war of independence. As the singer leaves home, he gives a solid promise to come back. Even on a paper ship if needed. The audience at the Georgian premiere started applauding during the first chords.
The storyline is simple and comes together piece by piece. Tangerines carries a certain weight of history and sadness for small nations, yet the story is universal and adaptable, making it comprehensible for a wider audience. That explains the many audience awards it has won so far at festivals including Warsaw. (Maarja Hindoalla)