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new and old european classics on view in Turkey

New and old european classics on view in Turkey with the "European Film Festival On Wheels" – Izmir, Turkey.

With Turkey now bucking for entry into the EU (European Union) this travelling selection of carefully culled European films -- Features and Shorts, old and new -- is a most significant cinematic and cultural event in this dynamic country of 65 million, stretching west to east, from the Aegean Sea to the Caucasus, north to south, from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Founder and driving force of the fest is Dr. Ahmet Boyacioglu who severed his association with the Ankara Film Festival ten years ago in order to bring the best of non-mainstream European Cinematic art to the Turkish hinterland and to film buffs in the larger cities hungering for 'something different'. Dr.Boyacioglu is a certified MD who did part of his medical studies in Germany and speaks German as well as English quite fluently -- not to mention that he is a true connoisseur of the international film scene.

Among the features on view here have been such undisputed older classics as Jacques Becker's ''Casque d'Or'' (1952), De Sica's marvellous ''Marriage Italian Style'' (1964), Kaurismaki's ''Match Factory Girl'', 1992 -- (a masterpiece of minimalist storytelling with a hypnotic performance by Finnish actress Kati Outinen) -- and the complete ''Dekalog'' by Krzystof Kieslowski (in pacem resquiat) -- as well as a selection of recent Prize winners from Eastern Europe: Antal Nimrod's ''Control'', a debut feature which swept the awards this year in Hungary and has been widely shown on the festival circuit since. ''Warsaw'', the surprise Polish grand prize winner at Gdynia last year and ''Zelery'', the big Czech film this year -- a WW II story set in the picturesque mountainous Bohemian outback. This long tender-tragic love story resonates oddly with last year's “Cold Mountain” in that it deals with a young woman who is an escapee from the Gestapo and has to hide out in the hills all during the war. The captivating young Czech actress Ana Greisserova is far more believable here than Nicole Kidman was in Minghela's Virginia, although her role is actually the sex reversed equivalent to the part of Jude Law as the Civil War deserter. Slim and tall with red hair and freckles, Greisserova is a refreshing new face to keep an eye on in the emerging new cinema of Eastern Europe. ‘Zelery’ refers not to a vegetable but to the name of the village where the action – what there is of it – takes place. Veteran Hungarian actor, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, is also quietly tremendous as the stolid older villager the heroine has to marry in order to support her new identity on the run.

An off-beat entry from the Netherlands was the semi-surrealistic pseudo documentary "The Arm of Jesus" by André van der Hout. Shot in mixed colour and black/white (for the flashback sequences), the pic recounts the strange tale of a Dutch coal miner whose dream is to emigrate to America stealing the money to do so from his fellow miners – but, did he or didn’t he? – make it to the Promised Land -- and then, of his son who returns to Holland many years later in the technicolor present. The Jesuit appendage in question is part of a large wooden image of the Nazarene which breaks off from a submerged building during a terrifying flood and is used by the father of the hero to paddle to safety. The singular limb keeps turning up later in weird places, but then, what would we do for a title without it ? -- "Arm of Jesus"’ was a bit of a hit with Norman-French cinephiles at the Rouen Nordic Film Festival back in March where it put me to sleep -- This time around I managed to stay awake but still couldn’t resolve the central puzzle – Why was it made?

A major highlight of this years festival on wheels is a crystal clear restored print of Dreyer's monumental silent film,''The Trial of Jeanne d'Arc'', with new French inter-titles and a new electronic musical accompaniment which held audiences spellbound. Still another landmark of the silent era on view here is Sergei Eisenstein’s famous Russian Revolution epic “October”, 1928.
The Swedish master, Ingmar Bergman, was represented by his late chamber piece "Autumn Sonata" (1978), his one and only collaboration with another famous Bergman – Ingrid -- ably supported, incidentally, by Liv Ullman, who plays Ingrid’s resentful daughter in this agonizing portrayal of a poisoned mother-daughter relationship.
Leaving hardly any stone unturned, Fellini is also here with "Amacord", the Italian master’s 1973 dialect-steeped reflection on his own childhood in pre-war provincial Italy. Other Italian films included Ettore Scola's latest documentary style feature ''People of Rome'' (not very interesting) and his one undeniable masterpiece, ''A Special Day”, 1977, starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni -- set on the day on which Hitler came to Italy to visit his partner in international crime, Benito ''Il Duce'' Mussolini. This film opens with an extended archival documentary sequence which is a small film in itself much like the ''March of Time'' section in ''Citizen Kane''. Loren, who plays a very plain, decidedly unglamorous mother of six living in a squalid Roman tenement, claims it as her own personal favourite. Two landmark De Sica’s from the early sixties, ‘’Marriage Italian Style’’ (marvellous!!), and "Yesterday Today and Tomorrow"-- both Loren-Mastroianni vehicles in their prime -- rounded out an especially strong Italian presence.

Germany checked in with Wim Wender’s perennial festival cult film "The Sky Over Berlin"’ featuring Peter Falk in his Colombo period and Bruno Ganz who is currently appearing as Hitler in a controversial new German version of the last ten days in the bunker. "Sky Over…" is basically a long, drawn-out, shaggy-dog Angels-come-to-Earth story whose far over-exalted status as an international cult film only proves that cults are not to be trusted …

Still another odd-ball Italian entry was Nanno Manfredi’s 1977 "Dear Diary’" – a film so ‘personal’ that it had nothing to say to me, personally, except for a two minute sequence in which a most fetching Jennifer Beals appears in a cameo fresh from her big hit of the time “Flashdance” – What ever happened to that fresh young beauty so full of promise?

To make audiences here more aware of their own cinema tradition, a section of the ''Ten Best Turkish Films of All Time'' is being shown including the starkly realistic black and white ''Dry Season'' (Susuz Yaz) by Metin Erksan, the dean of Turkish film directors. "Dry Season" captured a Golden Bear at Berlin in 1964 becoming the first Turkish film ever to win a major European award -- the film which opened the door for Turkish cinema in Europe. This is a gripping Cain and Abel morality play set in a remote farming village where the struggle for water is the struggle for life itself. Remarkable performances by the three main protagonists, notably the fetching, young Hulya Kocyigit as the ''stolen bride'' and Erol Tash as the incredibly evil older brother of the naïve new bridegroom. Both Tash and Kocgiyit went on to become superstars in Turkey and are still active.

Over a hundred short films of all categories are on the agenda, shown in batches around particular themes. One such section was called ''Kafka in Short'' and one of the most striking of these was an English film in which we see Gregor Samsa of ''The Metamorphosis'' in bed -- only his face, wrapped in swaddling from which emanate long black spider legs as he sings a lilting operatic rendition of Victor Herbert's ''You are my love alone ''-- Franz himself would have loved it. The short film program amounted to a festival in itself with a selection of the most popular shorts of the last ten years, children’s films, animation programs, an all-night program of digital tech films, etc. -- such that this could easily constitute the subject of an entirely separate report. Needless to say, some were less interesting than others, but almost all were eye-openers for the youthful film-hungry Turkish public.

A particularly funny short (15 minutes) was ''The Moustache'' by young Turkish filmmaker Lale Nalpantoglu who was born and film-educated in Cologne, Germany. In this one everybody in the film, male and female from babes in arms to senior citizens, have the same twirly black moustache. When the hero, through a freak accident, loses his upper lip adornment he becomes a celebrity ''freak'' and a national TV phenomenon -- however; when he once again accidentally, regains his moustache he becomes an outcast and is unceremoniously booted out of the TV studio for he is no longer of any interest to the moustachio bearing populace at large. In a way reminiscent of Ionesco's ''Rhinoceros'', this rib-tickler is in fact based on an original idea conceived by the lovely Ms. Nalpantoglu ''out of thin air'' to use her own words.

I joined the festival for a week in Bursa, Turkey's fourth largest city where the film professionals contingent, some fifty strong, were housed in a sparking new Holiday Inn and were wined and dined every evening in different atmospheric restaurants all over town. The euro-visitors were shepherded around by a staff of lovely, highly attentive young ladies, all thoroughly fluent in English --some in other languages as well, such as French and Italian. The dinner parties often turned into improvised belly dancing sessions around the tables to the strains of local orchestras. Many Turkish film celebrities were in attendance and, to say that ''a good time was had by all'' would be the understatement of the year. Izmir, a large palm tree bedecked port city on the Aegean Sea is Turkey’s third largest urban complex, one which strongly resembles Naples as a visiting Italian film critic observed this morning over breakfast. The Izmir instalment opens tonight with a concert of Traditional Turkish music at the spanking modern Civic Center down town as the Beat Goes On ... All we need now is Cher to step out and do a few bumps and grinds ...

Alex Deleon

PS: From here this ''Movable Feast of European Cinema'' pushes on clear across the country to the city of Kars in extreme Eastern Anatolia -- the true hinterland near the Georgian-Armenian border where movie houses are few and far between …


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