David Pierce // Matematik (Mathematics) // M.S.G.S.Ü.

Travel home

31st Istanbul Film Festival, 2012

Sons of Norway

Norway: Sønner av Norge. Jens Lien (b. 1967), 2011

We saw our first film of the festival on Saturday morning, March 31, at Atlas Sineması on the pedestrianized İstiklal Caddesi. Atlas is one of the remaining grand cinemas on İstiklal, with caryatids at the outer entrance.

A boy grows up with a wild father from the north (Norway) and a refined mother from the south (Copenhagen). At least that is how the mother puts it at a Christmas celebration. The father has bought a crate of bananas for this, to remind everybody that they are all just apes. This is in the Norwegian housing development that the architect father has designed. The children at the Christmas party stage a domestic protest against the patriarchy, and the father joins in their chants.

We see the boy walk hand in hand with his mother after a visit to a record shop, where the boy has purchased Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. If the boy is the age that the director would have been, then he is not many years older than ten. When later his father takes him to a nudist colony, the film viewer sees the pubic hair of many people, but not the boy's own—he will not remove his Union-Jack underwear. He has adopted the punk fashion, to the point of driving a safety pin through his cheek; the father is unfazed.

The boy also plays in a punk band. When the drummer has taken too many drugs to be able to go on stage at one of their gigs, the boy's father takes up the drumsticks.

The movie is funny and tragic. It naturally reminds me of Lukas Moodysson's Together (Sweden, 2000), set a bit earlier in the 1970s, in which children raised in their hippie parents' communal household stage a protest to be allowed to eat hot dogs. But the sympathies of the director of Together seem clearer. I was not sure in the end what the point of Sons of Norway was. Not that there needs to be a point. I suppose the movie is a response to the question: When you live in the most comfortable country in the world, what do you do to relieve the boredom?


Finland: Veljekset. Mika Kaurismäki (b. 1955), 2011

After a quick lunch, our next film was at 13:30, on the other side of İstiklal Caddesi, at the new-to-us and presumably fairly new-to-the-world Fitaş Beyoğlu Sinemaları, part of a chain of multi-screen cinemas. In fact the screening hall where we saw Brothers was still quite big. I am always impressed to find out how much space there can be behind the storefronts of İstiklal Caddesi.

The director is apparently the younger brother of Aki Kaurismäki, some of whose films we have seen. The brothers of the present movie correspond roughly to the brothers Karamazov. They have all gathered at the country house of the father, with whom they go through the motions of having a birthday party, although they all hate him.

I am glad I reread the Dostoevski version a few years ago. I am not sure what the movie has to add to it. What stays with me is the Finnish summer night of the gathering at the house, when the sky is never fully dark.

Sisters and Brothers

Canada. Carl Bessai (b. 1966), 2011

Sunday, April 1. Another weekend morning in the spring, another movie, this time at Beyoğlu Sineması. The director was in attendance, and he spoke and took questions at the end. He spoke too long, I think; his films should be able to speak for themselves. But I enjoyed hearing his enthusiasm for how current technology allows cameras to be easily carried anywhere—as for example to Istanbul. Very near the cinema, he said, he was shooting scenes for his next movie. This was in some streets of buildings that have been gutted as part of renovation/gentrification project. In fact Ayşe and I and a few others had recently been strolling through that area, hunting out well-kept and dignified Syriac church.

The film was a collaborative project with the actors, who played siblings in four parallel stories. The stories really are parallel: they never meet. It would have been too clever if they had. The director said that the siblings shouted a lot at each other because, when the dialogue is improvised, this is what happens.

Most of the movies I see are not in English, and most of the people I talk to in that language are not native speakers. It is striking to hear a movie in North-American English. I suppose it was west-coast English: the film was set in Vancouver and Los Angeles. In the question period, one person announced herself as an appreciative viewer from Seattle. I myself raised a question about the documentary aspect of the movie. On the screen, when the siblings were not struggling directly with one another, they might be seen individually, discussing one another as if in an interview. Since the actors had supposedly been involved in creating the dialogue, I asked how much they were drawing on their own experiences as they analyzed one another in these interview scenes. It was not a clear question, and it did not get a clear answer, although the director recalled once or twice that the actors were indeed professional actors: they got paid to make stuff up.


Poland: Wymyk. Greg Zglinski (b. 1968), 2011

Again a quick lunch, then a film in Atlas Sineması. The director had been a student of Kieslowski, and perhaps it showed. The movie seemed to be the most polished or professional or serious that we had seen so far.

The lead actor spoke and took questions afterwards, but this was even more pointless than the appearance of the director of Sisters and Brothers, and the actor himself, Robert Wieckiewicz, seemed to know it.

He had played Alfred, a man who ran with his brother a television-cable and internet provider. Jurek wanted to take risks to expand the company. Alfred wanted to play it safe. He did however enjoy driving his sporty new car, racing a train in order to cross the tracks right in front of it. (Here the actor revealed that the actual crossing had been simulated by computer.)

During a trip by mass transit with Alfred, Jurek is killed. It transpires that Alfred could have saved him, if he had had the guts. At least, that is what everybody else thinks. The film is about how Alfred deals with the accusations and his own self-blame. I think one can eventually see a change in him for the better; or at least one grows to sympathize with him. One may sense the injustice of blaming somebody for not doing something supremely difficult. In the question period, speaking in Turkish, one viewer said she had not seen a change in Alfred. The translator debated with her and did not translate everything she said, but the actor understood that the viewer's words were critical. He apologized and said he had done the best he could. It seems to me that the self-appointed critic was doing what the movie itself was gently critical of: presuming to know what is best for other people to do.

The Woman in the Septic Tank

Philippines: Ang Babae Se Septic Tank. Marlon Rivera (BA in Communications in 1987), 2011

We left our office on Monday afternoon, April 2, and walked over to an upscale mall called City's in the tony Nişantaşı district. Like our university, this mall is roughly halfway between our flat and Taksim Square (the head of İstiklal); the four points form a narrow rhombus.

The movie is slow at first, as we viewers enter a Manilla slum and watch a mother make a meal for herself and seven children out of one packet of instant noodles. She silently fills eight plastic cups and bowls with broth and and a few noodles. This is of course not funny. But then the camera is turned on the young bourgeois filmmakers themselves, and on their lead actor as such.

The film ends up being extremely funny. It pokes fun at the likes of Carl Bessai, who as I said was exultant over being able to shoot scenes in the beautiful slums of Istanbul.

Damsels in Distress

USA. Whit Stillman, 2011

No more movies for us till the weekend. Then, Saturday morning, 11:00, April 7, again at City's mall in Nişantaşı. According to the publicity in the catalogue, the director was inspired by reports of young women at American colleges who were trying to improve life on campus by dressing up and wearing perfume. This suggests that the movie might have a clear story, in which the young woman at the movie's fictional New England college either succeed or fail in their noble quest. But no, the point of the movie is not so clear. Again I do not necessarily complain about this. As with Sisters and Brothers, I was amused to hear New-World English. The dialogue of the college students seemed very clever.

But the director is said to be a Harvard graduate. Was the atmosphere there really as non-intellectual as at his imaginary Seven Oaks College? I might have expected more references to study and scholarship, even if it was of the phony variety that drove Frannie mad in the J.D. Salinger story of named for her.

The publicity refers to ‘the dynamic leader Violet, the principled Rose, and sexy Heather’. Perhaps the adjectives ‘principled’ and ‘sexy’ are sufficiently descriptive for supporting characters, but ‘dynamic’ is what you say if you don't know what else to say. I don't know how to describe Violet. She is the head of a group of young women, and I suppose this is a type in fiction, to which I was introduced in my boys' school through the John Updike story ‘A & P’. But I can hardly liken Violet to anybody I know or can even imagine. A peculiar character. Perhaps this is a credit to the actor, Greta Gerwig.


France. Tony Gatlif (b. 1948), 2012

Saturday afternoon, 13:30, Atlas Sineması. The movie was in a section of the festival that was rather offensively called ‘Challenging the Years’. This section consisted of the work of aging directors that, believe it or not, are still making good movies. I remember my uncle's response when a young colleague told him he didn't look sixty: ‘What the fuck am I supposed to look like at 60?’ Apparently he was supposed to look as if he had been ‘challenging the years’, but had lost.

I had seen Gatlif's Latcho Drom years before; it consisted mostly of scenes of Roma people making music in the many places of the world to which they had migrated. The present movie consists mostly of scenes of Europeans demonstrating against a corrupt economic system. So the movie was to this extent a documentary; the demonstrations were (apparently) not staged.

But there is also a story. A young woman manages to come from Africa to Greece, where she waits for the police to pick her up. She knows the procedure with immigrants. She ends up in Spain, where she joins a demonstration and befriends another young woman there.


Israel: Hearat Shulayim. Joseph Cedar, 2011

April 8, Sunday morning, 11:00, at City's. Perhaps this was the movie that came closest to showing us ourselves and our professional milieu; in any case, one of the most enjoyable films that we saw in the festival.

Two scholars, father and son. One might say that the father pursues his scholarship out of duty to knowledge itself—or as a way not to have to deal directly with people. For the son, the point of scholarship is to share the results. Questions of filial piety and academic honesty are raised. But it is a complicated movie. The title refers to the father's main claim to fame: his mention in a footnote by a celebrated scholar.

We wanted to see Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York, but it was sold out. Her earlier 2 Days in Paris about a binational couple had resonated with us.


Korea. Kim Ki-duk, 2011

Tuesday, April 10, 13:30, at Fitaş, after a visit to the nearby police station to pick up my new residence permit, needed because my old passport had recently expired. The shopping mall housing the cinema also housed a Burger King with a separate counter for coffee. We used the latter counter before the movie. The restaurant was jammed with children, drinking their cola beverages and crunching on brown morsels that supposedly had once been parts of chickens. We didn't know why the children were not in school. Ayşe was aware that companies enticed children to their establishments through special offers sent out in text messages.

The Kim Ki-duk movie might be described pejoratively as a childish cry for help. Kim had apparently quit making movies and become a recluse in a mountain village. Then he got bored and decided to start filming himself living as a recluse in a mountain village. He shat in catholes, as he showed us. He went about in sandals, so that his heels became encrusted with dead skin—as he showed us. He got drunk in front of the camera and moaned about life.

He is a loner like the father in Footnote. We see him watch a scene from one of his movies (which Ayşe and I had seen), Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter,…and Spring. As some kind of penance, a hermit monk, dragging a stone weight behind him, carries a statue of the Buddha to a mountaintop. The scene makes Kim sob. But I did not get any insight into why Kim would be so moved by his own movie.

I could recall that a project to record Of Human Bondage as read by the author had to be cancelled when Maugham was incapacitated by sobbing over his own written words. Maugham had written the novel to exorcise devils from his past. He had said that the therapy had been successful. Apparently it had not been.

After a year in Annapolis, I transferred with some friends to the St John's College campus in Santa Fe. After a year there, one of these friends went back to Annapolis. Then he wrote a letter to a bunch of his old and new friends in Santa Fe. One of these commented on the letter: ‘If he wanted to show how miserable he is in Annapolis, he has succeeded.’ But when I wrote to the Annapolis friend, he gave me some clues about how to read his letter as a carefully crafted work of art.

Kim Ki-duk crafted his movie. He took advantage of the technology that Carl Bessai had praised in the first weekend of the festival. Kim could sit in his mountain cabin, film himself, and edit the results, all by itself. There were no closing credits; only a single credit, to Kim Ki-duk. If you feel as if you have formed a connection to him through his movies, then you can see this one.

Son değişiklik: Wednesday, 30 May 2012, 12:41:15 EEST