Psychology is a major theme long neglected by Turkish cinema. It is a fact that psychological films were not very common until recent years in world cinema either. But Turkish films, at least until the mid-1990s, really lacked the inner story of the individual. The average Turkish film can be described as a social drama rather than an individual drama.
Perhaps the very first Turkish psychological film was “EndiÅe” (“Anxiety”, 1974) by director Åerif GÃ¶ren. Other early examples were âOtobÃ¼sâ (âThe Busâ, 1975) by TunÃ§ Okan and âReis Beyâ (âThe Judgeâ, 1988) by Mesut UÃ§akan. Nevertheless, we do not meet much psychology in Turkish films until the first films of âYeni SinemacÄ±larâ, literary of the ânew filmmakersâ. The group, led by director Serdar Akar, aimed to reflect real life through cinema in its simplest form (and included many prominent figures from the film industry, such as YeÅim UstaoÄlu, DerviÅ Zaim and Zeki Demirkubuz). UstaoÄlu is special among her peers, bringing depth by examining the psychology of the individuals she portrays in a political context. She also uses other themes and genres such as crime and mystery to intensify the psychological effect of her films.
YeÅim UstaoÄlu was born on November 18, 1960 in the SarÄ±kamÄ±Å district of the eastern province of Kars, where her father worked as an ophthalmologist at the public hospital. His family is from the northern province of Trabzon, where they returned after spending a few years in SarÄ±kamÄ±Å. UstaoÄlu went to school in her hometown from the first year to graduation from the Department of Architecture of Karadeniz Technical University (KTÃ).
She grew up in a leftist political environment, which encouraged her to take an interest in political issues in Turkey and the world from an early age. She was one of KTÃ’s student activists on the left in the late 1970s, when Turkey suffered heavy political violence from terrorists, activists and state security forces. UstaoÄlu was even attacked once and injured her eye. At the public hospital, his father himself operated on his eye. âIf my father hadn’t given me another life,â she once said in an interview, âI wouldn’t have been able to make these films.
UstaoÄlu participated in a project with her classmates for an international architectural design competition, and she was sent to study in Salzburg, Austria, after their project won. She was only 19 at the time and was studying among graduate students in their mid-twenties who called her “the little girl on the bike” because she rode to school.
After graduating from KTÃ, UstaoÄlu moved to Istanbul to work as an architect and complete her graduate studies in the restoration department, which she says shows her attitude as an architect. “My loyalty was to the architecture,” she once said, “not to the money.” Still, she made some money, which she will use to make her first four short films.
Architect by profession, director by passion
YeÅim UstaoÄlu could not cope with the boom in the construction sector in Turkey in the 1980s, as she was an idealist and preferred to save the cultural fabric of the old quarters of Istanbul at a time of wild change. . Most of the architects were trying to meet the demands of the clients, which changed the exterior appearance of Istanbul and later all of Turkey. Therefore, his attention began to shift to the cinema rather than to his actual activity.
UstaoÄlu made four short films before his first film “Iz” (“The Trace”, 1994), a psychological mystery. But the arthouse film did not capture the public’s attention. However, “Iz” won the highest cinematic awards at several international festivals, including Istanbul and Nuremberg. Some critics viewed UstaoÄlu as “the Turkish David Lynch,” which doesn’t fit when his later films are also considered. âIzâ is UstaoÄlu’s first film, but not his best.
UstaoÄlu’s second film, âGÃ¼neÅe Yolculukâ (âJourney to the Sunâ, 1999), was the story of a naÃ¯ve young man who gradually comes to recognize the political conflicts in his country. Mehmet, an allegorical name for Turkish identity, is a simple young worker with generic hopes like marrying his girlfriend, also a young worker. Mehmet befriends Berzan, an allegorical name for Kurdish ethnic identity, after a street brawl amid a cheering crowd resulting from a national football match. When Mehmet faces police brutality during a political investigation he is mistakenly involved in, he begins to change and become politically aware.
UstaoÄlu and his film have won several awards for his political honesty and courage.
Filming identity issues
UstaoÄlu also dealt with identity issues in his later films. In âBulutlarÄ± Beklerkenâ (âWaiting for the Cloudsâ, 2003), UstaoÄlu tells the story of AyÅe, who was born Eleni and grew up as a Muslim Turk although she belonged to a Greek Christian family after the events. premises during the First World War. AyÅe is now an old woman and seeks to find the remains of her family although she is not supported by her older sister, who has long accepted her new identity (Turkish Muslim) and refuses to make the connection with the past of his family. Finally, AyÅe manages to navigate through the mysteries of the past and visit her older brother in Greece.
After dealing with issues of national and ethnic identity in two separate films, UstaoÄlu began to focus on more universal topics such as aging, women’s issues, generational conflicts and youth issues in his later films like âPandora’nÄ±n Kutusuâ (âPandora’s Boxâ, 2008), âTereddÃ¼tâ (âClair Obscurâ, 2016) and âArafâ (âSomewhere in betweenâ, 2011).
To date, UstaoÄlu has won numerous awards at various festivals in cities such as Antalya, Istanbul, Ankara, Boston, Salt Lake (Sundance), Berlin, Nurnberg, Sao Paolo, Valladolid, Yerevan and Tehran.