Friday, April 2, 2010

Semih Kaplanoğlu's "Herkes Kendi Evinde" (2001)

English title: Away From Home

There is a moment in Semih Kaplanoğlu's first feature film Herkes Kendi Evinde that announces a great filmmaker with a new vision of cinema.

It comes somewhere in the middle of the film. (SPOILERS ahead.)

We've met Olga, a Russian girl in Istanbul in search of her father. She needs about 300 dollars to go back home, but she doesn't have the money. She first tries selling her camera, it doesn't work out. So she decides to sell her body for the first time in her life. We see her dressing up, doing make up, looking at herself in the mirror. In the next shot we watch her (for about 6-8 seconds) on the street with other prostitutes, looking at the cars passing by, trying to find a client. CUT.

SLOW FADE IN to a slightly high-angle medium-long shot of Olga lying on the grass, unconscious. Her dress is messed up, her legs dispersed, she's not moving. There's no doubt, she's been "used", and there's very little doubt that the person who raped her didn't pay her any money. It's a very sad, horrifying image, empowered by a perfectly executed ellipses, worthy of its greatest uses in the history of cinema. It underlines the tragedy while keeping a distance, without dramatizing, certainly not cheapening.

But the camera keeps rolling. Nasuhi slowly comes into the frame from behind the camera, when we realize that we've probably been in slow-motion the whole time (the "whole time" lasted only about fifteen seconds). Nasuhi is a character we know from earlier, he is a nice old man, who came back from Russia, to find his old house near Istanbul. It's unlikely he knows Olga from before, but we know he might help.

How is it that he happens to be there? (a question never answered in the film...) Did the worse nightmare possible just turn into a calm fantasy? Is this a dream? (this last one should sound familiar if you've seen any other Kaplanoğlu films)

But it turns out it's not "a dream": their meeting will change the course of events for both of them, on the way to a quiet and internal half-redemption at the end. Their sense of exile will continue forever...


As it should be obvious to anyone who has seen it, Herkes Kendi Evinde is an imperfect film. There are clearly unintended flaws in the lighting, editing, acting, story-line, etc. Just the titles at the end are funny to watch, in a way, because of the spelling mistakes all around. Nevertheless, the core of art resides somewhere other than these, and a clumsy film such as this can take us to levels that accomplished productions can't even imagine.

Happily, four years later, Kaplanoğlu's next film Meleğin Düşüşü (Angel's Fall) will have nothing clumsy about it. It's a perfectly realized masterpiece.

I want to thank Tarık Zafer Tunaya Kültür Merkezi (Tarık Zafer Tunaya Cultural Center) in Istanbul for giving us a chance to see these amazing films on 35mm.

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