On November 29th, the Yunus Emre Institute screened Sonbahar by Özcan Alper for their monthly Turkish Movie Night. This film was a big hit and a look into Turkish culture from the 2000’s and 1990’s. At the end of every month the Yunus Emre Institute screens a different Turkish film to expose the public of Washington to Turkish cinematic techniques and themes.
Sonbahar is a contemporary Turkish drama that centers around Yusuf, a political dissident who was sentenced to prison when he was a university student in 1997. Yusuf is able to leave prison after ten years because he is suffering from a serious respiratory illness. He returns home to his sick and elderly mother to learn that his father died while he was in prison and his sister married and moved to the city. Economic downturn means that most of the village he lives in is elderly so he reconnects with his childhood friend, Mikail. Yusuf goes with Mikail to Rize for a much needed vacation. Rize is a seaside city on the coast of the Black Sea in Northeastern Turkey with a mild climate and happens to be the center of the tea industry. While in Rize they go to a tavern where they meet two prostitutes, Eka and Maria, so Mikail pays for them to come back to their hotel. Yusuf is not in the mood but throughout the night he and Eka get to know each other and realize that they are kindred spirits. Their love is a last desperate attempt by Yusuf to connect with another person and end the despair that he felt since he went to prison. For Eka, Yusuf is like a mysterious character from a Russian novel who exists only in a foreign world from a time long ago. The people in Yusuf’s life are incredibly distant and trying to grapple with that tremendous feeling of isolation is a struggle for both Yusuf and his loved ones.
Sonbahar deals with several themes. Throughout the film, Yusuf is clearly struggling with the physical and emotional scars of his imprisonment. He struggles to express himself, it takes him most of the film to find things he enjoys, and he fights intimacy until it is too late. He has flashbacks of the socialist movement he was apart of and his time in prison. He cannot or will not address his illness as his health declines. All of his decisions are based on the past rather than living in the present, which causes him to lose his chance at love at the end of the film.
The film is also about isolation. Many shots show either Yusuf or Eka being alone either by choice or circumstance. Even the emotional climax of their relationship is shot so that they do not physically touch, denying them and the audience catharsis. Other characters talk about feeling alone in their personal lives or being economically isolated. The setting of the film deals with the problems of urbanization felt by rural villages as no one in the village, except Yusuf and his friend Mikail, is under the age of 60 and the modern world is passing them by. Viewers left the film somberly considering its themes. While everyone said that they enjoyed it, they were not shy about saying that they were impacted by the tragic story.
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