76 years ago, on April 1, 1937, Yilmaz Guney was born: He was born in the small village of Yenice near Adana in North Kurdistan under occupation of Turkey, to a peasant Kurdish family and went on to become a the most beloved Kurdish/Turkish filmmaker, and if had lived a full life, he could have been 76 years old today, but fate took him away at his peak, he died in 1984, in exile in Paris. He was called “The Ugly King”, labeled as the “People’s Artist”, he was never afraid to stand up to what he considered injustice, and for that, he paid dearly, spent half of his life either in prison or exile, yet, he left us with many cinematic gems. He was and is viewed as a mix of revolutionary of a pop icon, as someone put it, “Something like Clint Eastwood, James Dean, and Che Guevara combined”. Looking back at my film diary, here are a few of his film that recently I had a chance to write about:
Seyyit Han (Yilmaz Güney, 1968) As always, Guney leave you at the end of a film, breathless. Among his early work, Seyit Han is a part folktale, part western and a part revenge/superhero film, full of lyrical touches. The story of a tragic love affair between Seyyit Han, whom after seven year hunting down his enemies is back to claim his bride, Keje, but he soon find out that she is getting married to the village Agha, the same day as he get back. Brilliantly scripted, the film soon take a tragic turn as by mistake, the Agha tricks Seyyit Han into shooting Keje, when Han find out, he goes on a revenge spree in a masterful climax, with Guney’s direction, he makes times stop, the last ten minute is a visual tour force that matches any Kurosawa or Leone’s action scenes, one thing is sure, Guney know how to direct actions, the man seems to be a master everything. Beautiful. READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE (IN KURDISH)
Umut (Yilmaz Guney, 1970) After watching Guney’s Umut, Elia Kazan was so moved by the film, he wrote an article to the Miliyet newspaper; “Umut is a poetic film, completely native, not an imitation of Hollywood or any of the European masters, it had risen out of a village environment”, he went on to describe how the characters in the film came across as the most realistic portrayal of the working class; “I had not been able to forget the people in Guney’s story. The notion of hope is seemed to these characters a grotesque notion, something to be ridiculed. After I have seen the film, for the rest of that day, I felt anxious about them, “What is going to happen to those people to those people?”, I asked”. My friend, watch Umut, the one film that revolutionized the Turkish cinema, brought the realism to the screen that few other film could match. READ ELIA KAZAN’S VISIT TO GUNEY IN PRISON HERE (IN KURDISH)
Baba (Yilmaz Guney, 1971) Baba means Father in Turkish, and the father in the film is Yilmaz Guney himself; the story of a poor country father who end up taking the blame for a murder he has not committed, take the guilt of a rich man upon himself for the sake of his family, as he leave them behind, telling the lie that he travels to Germany to find work, only to come back many a years later from prison, old and grey, he finds he ugly truth; the was betrayed by the rich man, and what has remain of his family is his daughter, force into prostitution to make a living. Heartbreaking tragic story of a common man lead a stray by the greed of a few. The film was an inspiration for Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys (2008)
Umutsuzlar aka The Hopeless One (Yilmaz Guney, 1971) When one think of Yilmaz Guney, one think of him as a great director, but he is also a great actor, just watch Umutsuzlar and notice how he had created a characters that from the first frame of the film to the last has a continuity to him that few could achieves, a characters full of pain and sorrow expressed through gestures rather than dialogues. Umutsuzlar is a visual film, there are few dialogues, instead, the visual and music tell the story, it has a slow pace, rather a beautiful pace to it that one could find in Fassbinder’s films. Few could compare Guney to Hitchcock, but there is a similarity between Umutsuzlar and Vertigo and I could even go so far as to make the statement that it is among the fewest film to captures the spirit of Vertigo; both films are about a man’s desire to create a woman in his own vision, past and the memory of the past dominate the film. There are scenes in Umutsuzlar that are as powerful as Vertigo in expressing the desire and the love between the two characters, compare the wedding scene Vertigo‘s hotel scene, even the camera work is similar, they both move in a circle as the two lover embrace each other. Then there is the music, a theme that is played from the beginning of the film over negative images of the character in red, and keep playing the same theme every time the two lover recall the pain of separating, the theme connect the space between them. The power of cinema is to create a feeling, to create a thought in the viewer indirectly and Guney manages to create that with empathy to the character’s pure emotion that we share. Umutsuzlar is a purist film, a visual tour de force from Guney, a forgotten masterpiece. A tragic film about love, grief, pain, memory and longing.
Agit aka Elegy (Yilmaz Guney, 1972) In a short life of his,spent half of it in jail for political reason, Guney had managed to create a masterpiece after another, from every genre. Agit is a mix of Spaghetti western, eastern folk tale, a social conscious film about the forgotten outcast and poor of the country side, a metaphorical film about struggle against oppression that metaphor nature, and a nihilist film about loners who are doomed to death. It a genius film, there are so much to talk about, just take the use of elements of nature as a metaphor to Guney’s inner struggle, he live in a hill in which a slight noise would make the rocks from the mountains fall down like earthquakes upon him, he must live silently with nature, a lyrical poetry that uses music, nature and juxtapositions of images to its best use. Unlike many action films, Agit is slow, very slow and meditative which give it more of beauty, it captures beautifully the landscapes. I watched without any Sub and realized more than ever what a great visual director Guney is, simply magnificent.
Endise aka Anxiety (Yilmaz Güney, 1974) When it comes to Marxist filmmaking, few is more a political and critical of society as Guney. Endise is a personal Communist Manifesto from Guney; a film critical of capitalism, feudal system, religions, landlords, media propaganda, personal greed and ambitions, corporations, unions, and it manages to put all that on the screen within a very short time. Lets us not forget the personal side of it, Guney grow up as a child among the Kurdish nomads and landlords, his first knowledge of cinema was the little nickelodeon machine that is shown repeatedly in the film, as the operator selling them the dream of Hollywood stardom, and Guney uses montage brilliantly to comment on the difference. It is a raw film, and it was shot while Guney was in prison by Serif Goren, the film is edited buy Guney, and it is the Soviet Montage that is ever present in the film, a gaze, another gaze, the film is about gaze, it manages to cross the emotional to us by the use of collisions and construction of the image, it could had been a silent film. Guney was a genius of a one-man-show, his talent is amazing just to think of how much he managed to achieve in such a short time. Endise is a film that in the outside seems to tackle a universal issue of capitalism and class struggle, but underneath it is a film about fear and anxiety in the heart of a man, that is what made Guney’s film so powerful, he manages to tackle universal issue through the eye of an ordinary character. A masterpiece
Arkadas (Yilmaz Güney, 1974) The revolution is dead, now let us live our lives……not yet, we must keep on fighting, one could only love one thing at a time, your ideology or your girl, and desires, you can’t have it all three. I watched Arkadas from beginning to the end and all I could understand was the world Arkadas which meant friend in Turkish and is the name of Yilmaz Guney’s characters, yet at the end of the film, I had tears coming down my eyes, that is how powerful of a visuals storyteller Guney is, if he waned too, he could had been better than Douglas Sirk in making melodrama. Arkadas is a film about two world, capitalism and the proletariat, the westernized Turkey with its rich upper class inhabitant who lead a boring life on the beaches, swimming, listening to music, eating and making out with each other, and the the other world is that of the poverty stricken Turkey, poor children, sick and hungry, they do all the work and lead a decent life, a world that two friend once belong to and now one of them lead the rich life, he has forgotten about his past, and the other is trying to wake him to reality, it is film about boredom of the riches, their inability to help those who are less fortunate, there is a brilliant scene in which some of the westernized Turks go out and start to take pictures of the poor poverty stricken children as if they were a sight to be hold as Guney looks on in despair. Guney manages to make a moral statement about the lack and inability of one’s helplessness to leave the rich life behind and make a difference, to make the Utopia happen, yet there are those who does, the film end with Guney recruiting a new youth to join him in the fight and the film end with a close-up of two hand shaking in solidarity. The last five minutes of the film is a great example of Guney’s cinemal he crates an emotional atmosphere of despair thought the use of close-up and gestural movement of the body alone, it is incredible of how powerful those scenes are, one could study them for how crafted it is edited, just stare at their eyes, their movement, their gestures, they are beautiful. READ MY ANALYSIS OF THE VISUAL USE OF SPACE IN ARKADAS HERE…
Zavalliar (Yilmaz Guney , 1975) There are those whom society condemn into eternity and Zavalliar is the story of those individuals. From the first sequence of Zavalliar, we are shown the outcast of the society; children stealing shoes from a mosque in order get their daily bread. Guney start as one of those outcast, he is prison and his story is told through flash back with two other prisoners as they wait their turn to be released. A world is shown in Zavalliar in which everyone stab the rest in order to get ahead in life, some make the stabbing and many are stabbed. Watching Guney act, you come to a conclusion that the man was as a Greater actor as he was a Director. A forecaster of Yol or you may call it; Yol with flashback. Another masterpiece from the master.
Suru (Yilmaz Guney, 1978) This is my favorite Guney film. Can a film be more tragic than Suru? Can one write a better screenplay than Suru? Can a film be more powerful, more full of love and full of anger than Suru? This is a masterpiece that need to be more appreciated nowadays than ever. This film brought tears to my eyes more than once and it shocked me, inspired me and made me wonder at Guney’s talent, genius, and kept asking “If he had lived longer, what other great film could have he made?”. This is by far the best depiction of class struggle, of migration, of the a capitalistic society that ruins everything that touches, it is a Marxists poem from a man who cared deeply about his people, a man, who’s voice was silenced, made into prisoner and exiled, yet he managed to make masterpiece one after another. The brutality of the Turkish government against the Kurds, and it’s westernized and capitalistic institution comes under attack one after another, everything that is innocent is destroyed. It is by far one of the best film to condemn Capitalism, more truer today than ever, “the bandits can’t rule the world forever”, the film end with the that message of a protest song. Guney’s approach is universal, the story could have taken place anywhere and anytime. Kurds and the country peasants are the victims in Suru, but Guney are also critical of the tribal tradition and the male dominated tribal custom. What about the acting? Everything is perfect, masterful and realistic approach to acting; Berivan does not say a single word throughout the film, yet one could feel her pain and suffering, her death is among the most beautifully acted and staged that I had seen on screen, just writing about it brings tears to my eyes.There are scenes in Suru that are beyond perfection, Guney’s power is in the script and the editing, Montage is the center block of his film. Suru it is a genius work and by far my favorite Guney film to date. It was Guney’s Yol, one of the films that made me to whom I’m today, watching Yol convinced me to become a filmmaker, he is my hero. He shall be remembered through his works, even though fate took him at the top of his fame.
Yol (Yilmza Guney, 1983) Yol is the gem of the Turkish/Kurdish cinema, it is perhaps the best film made by a Kurdish filmmaker, and still is the most honored of all the Kurdish films, winning Best Picture the Palm’Dor and International Critics’ Prize at at Cannes Film Festival in 1982. The film was written, partially directed and then after his escape from prison edited by Yilmaz Guney, who was in jail for alleged murder of a Judge. In September, 1980, the new Turkish military junta made a law to ban all of Yilmaz Guney’s works, including his films, book and publications. Knowing that all his future work will also be censured by the military, Guney declared, “There are only two possibilities: to fight or to give up, I chose to fight” and he fought back by making Yol, what a gem. READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE.
Duvar (Yilmaz Guney, 1984) “What could have been?”, that is a question that one can’t help asking as to what could have been the future for Yilmaz Guney if he had not died at the peak of his career in Paris in 1984, while making Duvar? He had an epic plan to make a film on the Kurdish struggle, as he told Chris Kutschera a few month before his death; “One day I would like to shoot the film telling the story of the fight of a people for its birth – or rebirth. Now, it is a very difficult problem. One must tell how the Kurdish people was split and of their different perspectives of their situation. It is difficult to treat this problem in an objective way. History is not only full of victories; it is also made up of defeats, errors and deceptions“. We shall never know what could have been, but as it is, with Duvar, among his most personal film, Guney left us with an epic resume of films, one that matches any other cinematic masters, he was a man who lived life fully, a life full of struggle, but he triumphed at the end, and he shall remembered for what he was; a genius.