As with all other film festivals, everyone will have their own version of the 41st Istanbul Film Festival, according to the screenings they can schedule into their own programme -- and this year, for those who observe Ramadan, an extra limitation was planning to be home for iftar. This had happened some years ago as well, and I remember a critic saying it wasn’t such a good idea ‘to coincide the two holy periods’.
In practice, it hasn’t worked out too badly, getting in two films in the morning and getting home just in time for a nap before dinner. The morning screenings were quite sparsely populated- one could put this down to me choosing unpopular films, but that is the optimistic take. The rise in both the ticket prices and public transport have made going into town to see festival films almost prohibitive. This seems to have been a concern with the IKSV (Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation) as well, as their volunteers roamed the foyers conducting surveys, asking how much the respected member of the audience had put aside for tickets, transportation and food for this festival season.
It is not all doom and gloom however. Towards the end of the 11 day festival, audience numbers seemed to pick up, and for the Turkish documentary Koudelka: Crossing the Same River I even saw a rush line of people waiting for unused tickets, like in the good old days.
One of the films shown at the very first morning slots at Festival was Reflection, about a Ukrainian father trying to maintain his and his daughter’s sanity in the face of the Russian invasion in 2014. The film opens with a scene in the which the daughter is playing paintball with her friends behind a glass screen, and splotches of colour hit the screen the film is running on as well, making us unwilling participants in this game. The director Valentyn Vasyanovych keeps playing with the idea of screens: in one scene they are sitting in a car, and the view from the windshield does not look quite right- turns out the father and daughter are at a drive in theatre. This is then coupled with another wind shield on a reconnaissance vehicle which is duly blown up by the Russians: we are ‘in the theatre’ of war. So the screens we set up between ourselves and the world outside are just that, easily shattered either by those who bear ill-will towards us, or those who want us ‘to wake up’.
Parent-child relationships were a big part of the selection I managed to see. One could read the effects of lockdowns into this, which led families to try to come to terms with who they are. One haunting film that dealt with this theme was the Finnish Hatching, about the relationship between a preteen girl and her immaculately beautiful vlogger mother. They live in a very high end neighbourhood of villas nestled in the middle of a beautiful forest, disturbing the nests of several creatures in the process, who in turn haunt the family’s house. Although the setting is as middle class as it gets, the imagery and the story line was very folk horror indeed. Another offering in this genre was the Welsh The Feast, in which, yet again, a house and a household that aren’t welcome by the natural environment are made to pay for their intrusion. Taking folk horror very much in its basic elements was the Hungarian Post Mortem, set in a village right after WWI, coupling the hauntings experienced on the front with the ones experienced in the heart of the countryside.
Although not necessarily a category on their own, French films are a favourite at the Istanbul Film Festival, and this year’s selection also gave a panorama of French society in this election year. The one directly about elections -- albeit at the mayoral level -- was Promises (Les Promesses, dir. Thomas Kruithof) with the inevitable Isabelle Huppert. She has come to symbolize white French womanhood, and in this one she is flanked, literally on the Turkish poster, by Reda Kateb, and several other people of colour. She is the mayor who knows all her non-white French compatriots in Paris, trying to get them into decent housing. But she too has ambitions that may keep the halls of power closed to her non-white friends for a while yet.
A young North African man is at the centre of the proceedings also in the film Arthur Rambo. And yes, it is a film about aliases, about the anti-heroes on social media who can galvanize a whole generation. The film is an interesting exercise in imagining what would happen if the notorious French author Michel Houellebecq, who uses racist and misogynistic rhetoric in his novels, was a North African young man, and whether he would be afforded the ‘artistic license’ given to his white counterpart. The other ‘state of the nation’ French film does nothing to hide it mission civilisatrice complex and is called The Saviour. However, this time the French are not bringing Christianity and manners to Africa, but an awareness of the environment. The film’s obsession with child sexuality and the African continent is almost parodical in its French-ness.
This year, the National Competition section featured several films that thematize the problems of living in confined spaces in the big city such as The Resistance (dir. Soner Caner), Before the Night (dir. Ali Kemal Çınar) and Zuhal (dir. Nazlı Elif Durlu). The tension between the city and the countryside keeps haunting Turkish cinema, and Turkish directors love asking the question of where their characters feel most at home. Where to settle and where to move on become central themes in two other Turkish productions The Last Birds of Passage (dir. Iffet Eren Danışman Boz) and Koudelka: Crossing the Same River (dir. Coşkun Aşar). The film that received the most number of awards was Ela and Hilmi with Ali (dir. Ziya Demirel) for best actor (mention), actress and screenplay.
The best film award went to Klondike (dir. Maryna Er Gorbach), a film about the 2014 war in Ukraine, made by a Ukrainian cast and crew with a Turkish production company.