When it comes to numbers, the Turkish film industry has duly arrived at a peak of productivity: 130 local films were theatrically distributed in the national market this year compared to last year's 112.
But the question always remains: Is quantity equivalent to quality?
Frankly, I didn't have the most difficult time forming my list of top 10 Turkish movies this year since the seeds sown did not produce such a tasty harvest, but nevertheless here are the noteworthy films of 2015 in no particular order.
Emin Alper's sophomore feature “Abluka” (Frenzy) not only garnered a Special Prize at the Venice Film Festival this year, but also received the Best Film award at the Adana Film Festival. But beyond its festival success, the film is one of the most interesting takes on the Turkish political psyche set in a dystopian İstanbul in the near future in which parts of the city are under police lockdown.
On a different note, this situation isn't such so unimaginable anymore, considering what's currently happening in Turkey's Southeast. Alper's impeccable directing and awe-inspiring cinematography and production design also set the bar very high in terms of production value for independent arthouse features from Turkey.
Another sophomore feature came from Tolga Karaçelik in the form of “Sarmaşık” (Ivy), which won the top prize at the Antalya Film Festival last month. The film tells a unique chamber story set on a massive yet claustrophobic freight ship in which a handful of male crew members from different backgrounds experience the paranoia of isolation and abandonment. The representational qualities of the characters make a well-chosen allegory of contemporary Turkish society's tendencies of accusations and intolerance. The melancholic narration of the film seduces the audience into this poisonous vortex and accomplishes creating an intense feeling in the viewer.
Özcan Alper's third film, “Rüzgarın Hatıraları” (Memories of the Wind), released toward the end of the year in December, made a strong entrance with its poetic narrative about an Armenian journalist having to flee İstanbul to Artvin during World War II due to governmental pressure on minorities. The lead character's escape ignites his childhood memories of 1915, in which his reality and subconscious become intertwined. This is one of the most interesting films of the year, especially in its political and personal context, and the director's choice to tackle the subject in a method inspired from poetry and literature. Especially for those who have read Primo Levi's books, “Memories of the Wind” will have a much deeper meaning.
Female director Emine Emel Balcı's “Nefesim Kesilene Kadar” (Until I Lose My Breath) had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival at the beginning of this year and finally hit Turkish screens in October. The film relays a gritty story of young factory worker Serap's quest to save money in order to move in with her unreliable father. The only problem is that her father is a loose cannon and Serap gives into deceit as she obsesses over accomplishing her personal mission. Lead actress Esme Madra's performance as Serap is truly amazing with her deadpan but passionate manifestation.
Another female director Aysim Türkmen offered us a gutsy story about gentrification and youth culture in the outskirts of İstanbul through her gritty film “Çekmeköy Underground.” Utilizing a superb soundtrack and tapping into the potential of some of the most talented young actors in the country, this film deserves special attention, even though it was sadly snubbed at the box office when it opened in March 2015.
Veteran director Zeki Demirkubuz's “Bulantı” (Nausea) might not have been the auteur's strongest piece of work, but his unapologetic style of self-indulgence and pessimistic misanthropy continues to work its strange charm in this super low-budget film about a university professor having some serious Freudian issues in dealing with his grief and bitterness.
Kutluğ Ataman's “Kuzu” (The Lamb) was also one of the most refined films of the year with its humorous take on provincial Machiavellianism and a superb performance from Nesrin Cevadzade in the role of a woman who finds herself making a difficult decision about her family. The story's child actors were splendid in their mischievous yet naive renditions, and in fact these two were the stronghold of the entire narrative.
Actor Ali Atay's debut feature “Limonata” (Lemonade) was one of the most intelligent comedy/road trip movies of the year and also managed to reach acceptable figures at the box-office. The story follows the hapless adventures of a man cajoled into meeting his father's secret family in Macedonia. Lead actor Serkan Keskiner was inspiring as always with his compassionate yet weary expressions.
And last but not least, the 10th spot on the list is shared by two admirable efforts from mainstream cinema. One is an inspiring sports drama directed by Emre Şahin, “Takım Mahalle Aşkına” (For The Love of The Neighborhood). It's a sweet success story of an underdog amateur football team to stop massive urban development schemes in their neighborhood. The film's dose of comedy and sentimentalism had the perfect balance. And the other is Çağan Irmak's “Nadide Hayat,” also an inspiring success story. The film focuses on a 50-year-old hilarious widow (Demet Akbağ) who chooses to go back to university to regain her self-esteem. It's a mixture of “Shirley Valentine” and the Chilean drama “Gloria.”
And the honorable mentions go to…
Other films worth mentioning this year included the top two box office hits, which may not be the most inventive piece of cinema, yet they manage to int elligently tap into Turkish society's desires when it comes to entertainment. The sequel “Düğün Dernek 2” and “Kocan Kadar Konuş” (Husband Factor) are both productions of powerhouse BKM. The first is a rendition of a circumcision festivity gone wrong and the second one a romantic comedy that reminds women they need not obsess over getting married. Not to forget Deniz Gamze Ergüven's “Mustang,” though I'm not sure we can consider this a fully Turkish film since it's France's Oscar nomination, but lo and behold Ergüven's surreal take on Turkey's patriarchal clutch on women is still a film to keep in mind when remembering the best films of 2015.
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