Friday, October 1, 2010

Yavuz Turgul - Eskiya AKA The Bandit (1996)

In a Scandal-Torn Land, the Screen Is a Mirror
FOR MONTHS TURKS HAVE been transfixed by a spectacular unfolding scandal involving Government-sponsored death squads, terrorism and drug smuggling. No film maker has yet brought this scandal to the screen, but audiences fascinated by its themes of corruption and brutality have been filling cinemas across the country to see a movie that deals with these issues while telling a charming love story.

The movie, ''Eskiya'' (''Bandit''), has been seen by more than two million people, said to be the largest audience ever to see any film in Turkey. It is still drawing crowds.

Most reviews of ''Bandit'' have been highly positive. Several critics suggested that the film owed some of its popularity to the coincidence that it was released just as the scandal broke. One reviewer wrote that the film touched a nerve in Turkey because it reflected ''scandals which have touched the highest levels of the state.'' It is also leading a modest but significant revival in Turkish cinema, which has produced several interesting and original works in the last year.

''Bandit'' tells the story of an old-style Turkish bandit, the kind that used to infest mountainous regions of Anatolia. Released from prison after serving a 35-year sentence, he makes his way to modern Istanbul in pursuit of the woman he left behind. There he falls in with a young gangster who helps him find his lost love, and the two develop a father-and-son relationship that illustrates how profoundly crime has changed since the old man's day.

In the film, old bandits are portrayed as having been driven to crime by necessity; they live by a strict code of honor. Modern bandits are shown dealing drugs and killing one anther without remorse. Many viewers see this contrast as reflecting what has happened to Turkish society in recent years and take the film as a parable of corruption. Others see ''Bandit'' as a classic gangster movie. The film makers, however, say they conceived ''Bandit'' mainly as a love story and attribute its popularity to that.

''Our film is very simple,'' said Mine Vargi, the 46-year-old producer. ''It comes from the heart. It's about love, friendship and betrayal. I think the reason it has become so popular is that it comes across as truthful. It reflects real life.''

Ms. Vargi runs a film production company with her husband in Istanbul. The company specializes in making television commercials, which are quite sophisticated in this country. Ms. Vargi and Yavuz Turgul, the director, came up with the idea for ''Bandit,'' and Mr. Turgul wrote the script. The budget was $1 million, which in Turkey is still a daunting sum.

''It was a crazy project because we figured that 500,000 people would come to see the film, and even that number would not be enough to repay the investment,'' Ms. Vargi said. ''I spent a year trying to find a backer. I must have knocked on a hundred doors. At the end of one year I had come up with absolutely zero. No one was interested.''

Finally Ms. Vargi persuaded a Turkish television station to buy broadcast rights and won a grant from Eurimages, the film promotion arm of the European Union. She scraped up the remainder of the budget mostly by turning over her production company -- its studios, technicians, cameras and other equipment -- to the film makers.

To the surprise of everyone involved, the investment has paid off handsomely. ''Bandit'' has made $4 million at the box office, and Ms. Vargi is hoping to place it at film festivals and find a European distributor.

The success of ''Bandit'' has not been universally welcomed by other film makers in Turkey. The producers of another film, ''Direjan,'' have been distributing leaflets asserting that their film offers a more trenchant view of Turkish life.

''Direjan'' is as rural as ''Bandit'' is urban. It touches on the same themes of revenge and redemption, but in a very different way.

The opening scene of ''Direjan,'' which is the name of a Kurdish clan, is almost identical to that of ''Bandit'': a prisoner walks through jail-house gates to freedom. But in this case, the prisoner is a woman who has served a term for killing the person who murdered her husband. Once back in her village, she finds herself again caught up in the cycle of family conflict that had led her to kill in the first place.

Although the words ''Kurd'' and ''Kurdish'' are never spoken in the film, the vivid costumes and harsh setting make it instantly clear to Turkish viewers that the village in which it takes place is one of the thousands, most of them in southeastern Turkey, where members of the country's largest minority group live.

Although far fewer Turkish films are being made now than in the heyday of the industry in the 1970's and 80's, many of those that have made it to the screen are more serious and complex than the tear-jerkers and action shoot'em-ups that were then popular. They include ''Please Don't Go,'' a psychological drama about a young Greek-Turkish woman searching for love in the Turkey of the 1930's, which won the awards for best film and best actress at the recent Ankara Film Festival; ''Let There Be Light,'' a pioneering story about the Kurdish war being fought in southeastern Turkey, and ''Somersault in a Coffin,'' a gritty portrait of Istanbul's homeless.

Given the charged political climate in Turkey today and the tensions that have grown here since an Islamic-led Government was installed last year, it is natural that some films provoke political debate. The one that has most deeply upset Islamists and other conservatives is ''Istanbul Beneath My Wings,'' a lushly told story set in the 17th century. The characters in the film are taken from history, as is the central incident, a flight across the Bosporus by an ingenious inventor who fashioned himself a pair of enormous wings. The film shows how the inventor was persecuted by obscurantist religious leaders who became convinced that his invention was satanic.

''The Sultan gave him a pouch of gold and sent him into exile,'' said Mustafa Altioklar, the director and screenwriter. ''That got me excited because it's just the way things are today. Everyone in power fears new ideas, and our most important thinkers are sitting in prison.''

Although the film, a Turkish-Dutch-Spanish co-production, has been a critical and box-office success, it probably could not be made today. It was subsidized by the Ministry of Culture when the ministry was still in secular hands, but now that the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan has taken over, ministry officials have condemned the film. They object to the ridicule it heaps on religious fanatics, and are outraged that it portrays Sultan Murad IV as having a homosexual relationship.

''The Minister of Culture brought me to court, and fascist groups threatened to burn cinemas where the film was shown,'' Mr. Altioklar said. ''This was all because I show how the power structure uses religion to deceive people, prevent them from thinking and hold them back from all progress.''
Stephen Kinzer, NY Times, May 25, 1997

Language: Turkish With Hardcoded English Sub
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Eskiya 1996 DVD5

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