We’re All Human and So Are The Filmmakers
I know I did this in my previous post, but humor me if you will while I begin this post also with yet another excellent expression in Turkish: “hevesi kursağında kalmak.” As with most Turkish expressions, this one is not easy to translate (forget it, google translate!).
A literal translation would be something like “my enthusiasm got stuck in my craw,” or “I couldn’t stomach it.” (Yes, language IS extremely important and so are language rights…but that’s a whole other subject so forgive my digression.) The subtleties of the expression, however, refer to those singular situations where one feels so excited, so elated and full of hope for something, that when a disappointing outcome arrives, it’s as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath…but not quite so abruptly you find yourself suddenly hitting a hard floor, but more slowly and painfully, as if in slow motion, after a long wait. The expression came to mind as I worked my way through the second season of the Netflix limited series Kulüp, or “The Club.”
There I was after the much acclaimed and talked about (at least in some Turkish/Jewish/Armenian/American circles) season 1, waiting for season 2 with that hope and enthusiasm. Season 1 was an excellent example of what could be achieved when impeccable production standards were used to bring forth the kind of stories that were once attempted but somewhat forgotten in the world of Turkish taboo-breaking filmmaking. Here was a movie shot in Turkey, speaking about two of the worst atrocities committed against that country’s non-Muslim communities, the real-estate tax that sent hundreds of Armenians and Jewish people to a labor camp in 1942, and the 1955 pogroms directed primarily against the Greek minorities in the city of Istanbul. “The Club” was also the first time the authentic Ladino language spoken by the ever-shrinking community of Sephardic Jews in Istanbul was represented in speech as well as song.
And there was more…the reference to memory and remembrance as represented by one of the character’s mother, a Turkish citizen of Greek origin who was stricken by Alzheimer’s. There was a lot to admire and applaud in what the filmmakers were striving for in these first episodes.
Then came Season 2 when the series was taken over by a tendency toward melodrama — not exactly the kind one would find in the old-fashioned love stories in old Turkish films filled with rich girl/poor boy-poor girl/rich boy stories. This melodramatic turn put all the resources of this quality production in the service of the “good Muslim Turk” portrayal at the expense of rational character development.
In the first season, there is a Turkish character by the name of Çelebi whose obsessive interest in the main female character Matilda was depicted alongside sexual abuse of female employees, such as the Greek dancer Tasula. Comes Season 2 and slowly but surely this man becomes some kind of a valiant hero who not only professes his undying love for Matilda but manages to save dozens of Greek and Jewish people running away from the Turkish nationalist lynch mobs pillaging the neighborhood. And there is more: Matilda is so overcome by gratitude at this point, as her own daughter is amongst those saved by Çelebi, that she gives him the biggest and warmest hug of the entire series.
There are plenty of other examples but suffice it to say that the scenarists apparently decided that instead of using the storytelling to reveal and explore the reality of some of the worst atrocities committed against minorities in Turkey, they put their beautifully and painstakingly crafted sets in the service of a half-baked reconciliation effort. That is the only explanation for the beautiful dinner table at the end of the series where nearly the full cast of characters are seen seated happily enjoying a little feast. The only missing characters are Orhan (who commits suicide after having been outed as a Greek-turned Turk after trying to hide his true identity in order to keep up his success as a businessman) and a young Turkish man (whose lust after the Greek Tasula leads to his death) The main character, Matilda, meanwhile has chosen to stay in Istanbul, forgoing the opportunity to immigrate to Israel. Please note that this warm and fuzzy dinner table happens to include the rapist Çelebi and his prior victim Tasula.
Instead the filmmakers might have left the audience pondering the weight of the atrocities, the dilemmas of the characters, and the difficult conditions under which these minorities would continue living following these events, with a less than perfect ending.
Which brings me to why this blog is titled “We’re all human and so are the filmmakers.” I do not know and will not guess as to who or what support lay behind this extremely posh production worthy of Netflix, but I will venture to guess that the filmmakers may have wanted to please more than a small circle of truth-seeking idealists like myself, and therefore wanted to wrap the series up with in reconciliatory tone and a relatively happy ending. At least they were able to expose these topics, and perhaps that was the goal.
Was it an excellent film? Probably not, considering a film with much more primitive standards had been made 23 years ago (Salkım Hanımın Taneleri) with much starker representations of the true nature of the crime committed against minorities in Turkey. That said, was it a positive development to see a film like The Club produced in the first place? Absolutely!
The way any story is told through the craft of filmmaking is certainly up to the filmmakers’ prerogative…even if this one left me pondering the following:
Is it truly that easy to jump from the realities of extreme bias and prejudice resulting in indescribable violence and outright massacre into the utopia of reconciling around the dining table? For the answer to that question, I will let Bryan Stevenson have the last word. He is the founder of Equal Justice Initiative, an attorney, author, and human rights activist who speaks about the importance of NOT “skipping steps” when it comes to communities and nations facing and coming to terms with their tainted histories. Here is a direct quote: “I think it’s really important that people understand that if you’re genuinely engaged and recovering from human rights abuses, you have to commit to truth-telling first. You can’t jump to reconciliation. You can’t jump to reparation or restoration until you tell the truth. Until you know the nature of the injuries, you can’t actually speak to the kind of remedies that are going to be necessary.”
Thank you for reading dear friends…my comments on the documentary Hafıza Yetersiz/System Memory Too Low for Words will have to wait for another time since the standards for documentaries based on inarguable facts and figures differ widely from those for fictional films.
More information on The Club:
More information on Salkım Hanımın Taneleri:
The interview where the quote from Bryan Stevenson is taken: