SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2012
By Anna Bielak | January 31, 2012
Director: Raşit Çelikezer
Writer: Raşit Çelikezer
Starring: Selen Uçer, Serdar Orçin, Yusuf Berkan Demirbağ, Erkan Avcı, Serhat Nalbantoğlu, İdil Yener, Erdal Cindoruk, Cengiz Bozkurt, Zeynep Yalçın, Güray Görkem
We usually like what we have already know — songs, we have heard lots of times, films we have watched over and over again, and ideas that have been stuck in our minds. There is no such attitude at the Sundance Film Festival at all. What seems to be important there is breaking all what may be called stereotypical. Last year the winner of the Audience Award in World Cinema Dramatic Section was Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance (2011), an Iranian film about women not wearing chador, going to discos, having intercourse with boys, and finally falling in love with each other, that brought a slightly different image of Iran than we are used to thanks to Makhmalbaf’s family movies. Raşit Çelikezer’s Can — winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Artistic Vision at Sundance 2012 — follows Keshavarz’s film in the category of pictures that put an end to all we could expect from Turkish cinema.
Raşit Çelikezer changes the perspective of seeing and understanding in the very first sequence of Can. He does it in a simple, but undeniable way. We see the leading character — Ayşe (Selen Uçer) — in bed upside down. This one cinematographic gesture should prepare us for changing our position towards the on screen events. We will not get a black-and-white vision of Istanbul made up by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk in his memories about the city he lived in; we should not wait for hüzun — the specific Turkish melancholy — well known from Nuri-Bilge Ceylan cinema either. In Can, Raşit Çelikezer tells a story about a family — which is a very Turkish issue — yet his approach to the subject seems to be influenced by western culture, society and cinema.
The plot contains the chronicle of a family’s life. As we know from one brief conversation — Cemal (Serdar Orçin) abducts Ayşe from her family home. Now they are together, with their own house and new friends. There is only one more thing they both crave for — a baby. Unfortunately, Cemal is barren. He suddenly starts to think that he is not one hundred percent man. Thanks to his friend, Cemal decides to buy an infant. He convinces Ayşe to pretend to be pregnant by wearing a false belly for a while. Everything seems fine until the moment when we notice that the fake pregnancy could bring only fake feelings. The mother does not love the purchased child; she can not learn to love the little one called Can (Yusuf Berkan Demirbağ).
Apart of that, there is another thread parallel. We see the same actress who plays Ayşe leaving a seven-year old boy on a park bench every morning before work. For some time it is hard to link this two threads together. However, it occurs after awhile that Cemal left Ayşe with the child she does not love and want. As soon as this two threads find a common point in the plot, Çelikezer splits the narration in a different way. He starts to portrait Ayşe’s life as a single mother and the new — though not better — life of Cemal who finds himself at the side of twenty-something girl and her rich father. It is obvious that the director wants to retain the harmony of the film’s construction by having two parallel stories from beginning till the end. However, by keeping the form complicated, he simplifies the content. Cemal left his wife, who could not love the child who was not her own, to marry a woman who has constant affairs and gets pregnant by one of her lovers. Guilt and punishment? It is too easy, not realistic enough. I would have preferred to follow only the single mother with the child without knowing what had happened to the father after he had left the house of his first wife.
Yet, on the other hand it is understandable that Çelikezer was focused on making a deep description of male crisis, which is quite a unique attempt among Turkish directors who usually portray a highly patriarchal society. The male crisis is still an issue explored mainly by Western filmmakers. However, Cemal is the supporting character — the leading one is Ayşe. Selen Uçer’s performance brings and maintains the tension during every scene. As Orhan Pamuk wrote, describing Istanbul’s inhabitants, Ayşe is too clumsy, too heavy, and too realistic; but brilliant in that kind of role. On the contrary, the seven-year old Can is very appealing. He has ability to stand in the shade very quietly, yet attracts viewers’ attention all of the time.
Moreover, the film’s title, Can, resonates really well with the English meaning of the word, and that brings one more level of understanding the whole idea hidden within the Turkish film. Every single character in Çelikezer’s picture could ask himself very same questions: Can I survive in this upside-down-world of mine? Can I be successful? Can I fulfill my dreams? Can I hate? Can I be loved? Can I be free? Can a child be the meaning of life?
Can I not answer any of these questions?