by mh musings
Yesilcam is back with Season 2, with the characters and scenarios evolved to fit with the five year jump in their lives and in the industry.
Semih Ates is still the spitfire he always has been, the cat with nine lives who keeps getting into one escapade or another. He has Turgut by his side as an in-house writer for his production company, Buyuk Ates Film.
Mine has been making a living away from Istanbul but gets called back by the state intelligentsia to fill her cover story as the manager for the night club Mona Lisa, now owned by Vebhi. Tulin, married to Semih, has left the world of acting to be mother to their son Mehmet Ali but navigates a growing distance with Semih due to a multitude of reasons. Hakan left his promiscuous days while turning his back on Mine and married Reha’s only daughter Sezen.
This reshuffling of relationships has led to new power dynamics in Yesilcam. Semih, who is now independently successful, is a formidable rival for Reha. Without Vebhi’s support in the film business, Reha continues to look for growth opportunities to dominate Semih, who has taken over Reha’s theaters in a recent deal.
With the introduction of Ekrem Hazinedaroglu, a pasha from the Ottoman times who has recently moved back to Turkey, we have a new fulcrum for power plays. He wishes to invest in building a studio in Yesilcam and provide a gateway into film distribution in Middle East, N. Africa and Europe. Reha has kept his dealings with him under wraps but Semih gets whiff of it and understands that the future of Yesilcam will hinge on such an infrastructure. He outmaneuvers Reha and becomes Ekrem’s business partner, at the cost of attaching himself to the intelligentsia once again.
Against this backbone of how Yesilcam is revolving around Semih’s aspirations, Yesilcam continues to serve rich themes in the cultural history of the film industry, social shifts in the times, business machinations, and how the individual relationships get shaped against these moving tides. It is interesting that BluTV released five episodes at once because the way the narrative unfolds with flashbacks interspersed with current happenings, it was necessary to see this block of episodes together and build the anticipation for what lies ahead. The top notes that stood out to me from these episodes are discussed below.
Same Song, Different Tune
At its core, not much has changed in Yesilcam. Survival instincts define the strength and direction of alliances, and loyalty is fickle. In a competitive space where politics provides an ever growing guardrail for how the industry can grow, Yesilcam adapts to the times with the same entrepreneurial vigor. Within his rivalry with Reha, Semih’s insatiable need to thrive in this industry as an important player in the stories that are told is still there. He has people who care for him, he has healed his distance with his mother, and while the players have shuffled, there remains holes in his life he tries to fulfill in new ways.
Tulin has grown distant from him over the years, with an irreversible resentment towards Semih rooted in her firm belief that he is unable to make her his top priority, especially over Mine. They share a son but it is evident that Semih is almost an accidental observer in Mehmet Ali’s upbringing. So much silence and lies fill their increasing distance that both lack the language to traverse the chasm.
On advice from Belkis, Tulin attempts to become more of a part of Semih’s daily life by expressing an interest in taking on a movie project. Semih also embraces the opportunity and enables her to become a producer, ignoring the brewing office politics between Turgut and an aspiring writer, Yusuf. However, it maybe too little too late.
The bond among Semih, Mine and Hakan remains impenetrable even though the three have scattered in different directions. To protect him, Semih and Mine hide a big secret from Hakan, which has directly affected the family life Semih is able to build. Being spurned by Tulin for so long, we see Semih indulging in some of the sweeping changes in the urban pop culture, brought to life by the hippie winds blowing through Istanbul. Drugs, promiscuous women, drunken orgies, dancing to the swinging 60s have become Semih’s outlets while his homelife remains stilted.
Hakan has ingratiated himself with the Esmer family, making his marriage to Sezen the keystone for his life’s growth. The early vigor of his marriage has fallen prey to his subservience to Reha and Sezen’s slide back into her addictions. Oblivious to the effects his choices have had on Semih and Mine, he continues on his self-righteous path while he blames everybody but himself.
Gazelle, the sultry lady with the footloose behavior, hides her true identity as Ekrem’s wife when she starts an affair with Semih. As always, the impulsive opportunist in Semih has painted himself into a corner when he discovers her connection with his new business partner and he realizes that the daring, nymphomaniac Gazelle has no intention of just letting him loose. The more dangerous the game, the more excited she is. How will this play out for Semih just as he is trying to find common ground with Tulin?
On another front, Rifki has passed on and is now replaced by a similarly wily character called Naki. Semih, who has proved his patriotic flair throughout his escapades in Season 1, aligns himself with the state again through Naki. He promises the opportunity to shape the industry narrative through wider international exposure if the state will fund his partnership with Ekrem. And, unknowingly, both Semih and Mine’s survival are now tied to Naki, who has also recruited Mine to gather intelligence on an arms dealer called Niyazi Demiral.
As the cauldron full of intrigue brews in Yesilcam, we are left to wonder if Semih will be able to find his way out of this mess and, if so, will he be able to build a happy ever after for himself? Will he be able to remember who he is and be true to himself and what he loves? Will Tulin remember all the reasons she had loved Semih and forgive his transgressions or will she continue to be influenced by her mother’s indignation and lies? Will Semih find his comfort with Mine who understands him with all his flaws or will being there for his son mean something to him? These, and many more loose threads, await resolution in upcoming episodes.
Shifts In Political Winds
Almost every nation goes through iterations in their political systems and values. Turkey has been particularly interesting because of her Islamic roots through the long reigning Ottoman empire and the shifts away from those ideologies through Kemalist policies fostered by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) after the country became a Republic in 1923. When the economy stagnated towards the end of the WWII, the one party rule became an untenable solution to meeting the people’s problems and Turkey entered its multi-party period in the 1950s, when the Democrat Party gathered the rural electorate and won the elections against the CHP after it had ruled for 27 years.
The reality is that no one party can remain ideologically rigid and meet the people’s needs as they shift with changing times. Much depends on how different stakeholders are appeased and the strategies employed by the governing body in controlling or empowering the populace.
The DP ran into trouble within a decade, which led to the 1960 coup d'etat. In my reviews for Season 1, I have talked about the political background of the 50s – 60s as it led into the 1964 elections, and how the Democrat Party reinvented itself as the Justice Party and still won the majority votes. In the 5 ensuing years, the economy continued to struggle, leading to greater political divides between the left and the right, as well as a mounting anti-American sentiment. Bloody Sunday of February 16, 1969, is a violent reminder of rising intolerance between the left and the right.
There were further splintering in political ideologies and instead of 4 political parties and independents in 1964, there were 8 parties and independents contending the 1969 elections.
This increasing fragmentation is indicative of the upcoming chaos and a precursor to how the multi-party system would fall prey to another coup in 1971. This period in the 70s is outside the scope of this show but I love the clever story details Mr. Cantek and Mr. Sumbul inserted to give the attentive viewer the intuition for the driving forces behind the contemporary social changes of the late 60s.
In this predicament, we begin to see further changes in how the Ottoman elites begin to seep back into society. A group that was considered the piranha at the end of WWI, had now added layers of genteel veneers of having connections with the English and using those covers to move back to Turkey. Changing economic needs create very short memories and people will clutch at any straw that will provide them a way out. Neither Reha nor Semih had pangs of conscience doing business with an Ottoman elite because he had the funds and the vision to move the industry forward.
Since their exile in 1924, male members of the Ottoman family were only allowed back after 1973. As such, the return of Ekrem Hazinedaroglu (a pasha during the Ottoman era) seems surreptitious and perhaps a fictional ploy to show how some started to exert influence earlier. He is also shown as an example of contradictions that exist in the Ottoman way of life, which is supposed to be a center for Islamic principles. As an example, Ekrem is still tied to anti-Jewish sentiments, which is a centuries old sub-thread in the Middle Eastern narrative between Muslims and the Jews, and yet his elitist behaviors transcend other Islamic teachings or political ideologies rooted in Islam. His scantily clad, adulterous wife roams as a symbol of every vice that has blown in from the West, and he seems to be either an oblivious spouse or an enabler of her idiosyncrasies.
The Hippie Culture
From the 1950s to the 1970s, a Western wanderlust initiating in the United States and Europe gave rise to a group of counter-cultural pilgrims making their way through an alternative Silk Road in search of spiritual enlightenment, accentuated with drugs. The Hippie Trail, as it came to be known, wound through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
We see hints of this in Season 2, with how Gazel runs the parties at her Guzel Ev (Beautiful House) and how Erol has reimagined his pub in Yesilcam to be a hangout for these transient visitors. Through Semih’s world, we see artistes indulging in coke, marijuana, and other psychedelics, as they pursue whatever they deem to be happiness or practice carpe diem.
There is a growing moral fluidity that is in step with the political fluidity of the times. Almost as though without a single, consistent source of voice setting the tone for social morality, much was left up to the imagination as it morphed with borrowed sub-cultures from the West or as it conflicted with the social mores of the Anatolian heartlands.
At Gazelle’s house, we hear the crooning of what Zeki calls Anatolian Pop and he says ‘they turned Mahsuni’s folks song into rock and roll’. Asik Mahsuni Serif is a famous Turkish folk musician. The guests at Gazelle’s house are also all dressed in very hippie fashions, many of them stoned and in search of a transcended experience. At a later time, we see a similar scene in Erol’s pub, where he has a jukebox, his earlier sharp attire transformed into a patterned skullcap wearing hipster who offers refuge to these artistes and individuals searching for enlightenment.
The hippie winds brought changes to the urban social structures, and with that came changes for Yesilcam. All of these are so intelligently captured against the backdrop of Semih’s story as he continues to weave in and out of trouble and new adventures.
As I have said before, Yesilcam provides an incredibly rich narrative of the industry and the times in which this story is set. Without providing spoilers for the plot details, which I encourage you to watch mindfully, I am continuously taken by the depth and intelligence the filmmakers and writers have gone into the creation of the series and its characters.
Whether the morality is congruent with the kinds of hero figures we seek or not, what I like is the honesty in how the characters have evolved. Female characters such as Mine and Belkis are shown to have so much agency as they attempt to survive in a male dominated world. Tulin is also shown to have an inner strength as she tries to put her stake in the ground. The male characters are shown across a spectrum, with each one espousing different aspects of ideological stances. And then we have Semih, who is a flawed and broken person but who serves as the prism that helps us see the various moving pieces in an industry and its people as they grappled with changes within and outside of their control.
Cagatay Ulusoy is nothing short of spectacular as the ever morphing Semih Ates. There is a clip pace to his movements this season as he has gone from the constant failure to someone who has won some of the chips he bid for. He has a cockiness about him that fits this stage of his life, and yet some despair as well for the things he could not make whole. To portray the nuanced expressions that are often not elaborated through pointed dialogue requires finesse and Cagatay does this flawlessly.
This short clip shows him backtracking on something he had said to Gazelle earlier, while his head is still spinning from the after-effects of LSD. He could have easily overdone this but his entire countenance is believable, with a touch of comedy. This is precisely what his role requires to keep the viewer engaged in his character even though he makes so many awful choices as well. He is not the perfect hero but he comes across as one the viewer can root for.
Once again, I express my gratitude to the writers, the director, the entire cast and crew, for bringing such a smart production to life. I am intrigued about what lies ahead in Semih’s journey and can only hope that as the details of the broader social/ political context fit together and move in various ways, he doesn’t give up on building a life of meaning, telling stories that stand the tests of time.
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On the eve of Cagatay's birthday on September 23, Ranini broke the news the Cagatay has signed on with OGM Pictures for a new series titled Yali Capkini ("The Kingfisher"). It is inspired by a true story and written by Kemal Hamamcioglu. There are rumors that it is being prepared for channel tv8, but we do not have confirmation from the channel yet. His co-star is also yet to be announced.
In the past, Cagatay's name has been involved with Marasli (Burak Deniz played the lead) and Barbaroslar (Engin Altan Duzyatan is playing the lead), but eventually did not come to fruition. Both the actual eventual leads are Cagatay's co-stars from Medcezir and Anadolu Kartallari, respectively.
If this proposed project does happen, this will be Cagatay's return to a dizi on public tv since his turn as Sarp Yilmaz in Icerde, 2016-2017. In September 2020, he had a cameo in Menajerimi Ara, an Ay Yapim production being directed by Ali Bilgin, who also directed Cagatay in Medcezir and Delibal.
Successful Birthday Fundraiser!
With donors from more than 10 countries, Cagatay Ulusoy North America co-ordinated fundraiser for Cagatay's 31st birthday on September 23 was very successful. With several hundred dollars sent to various childhood cancer organizations around the globe, the fans showed their love for Cagatay by standing next to the kids in need. Many donors sent a birthday message his way and we compiled them into a video.
Spotted with friends
Last week, Cagatay's friend Mustafa Mert Koc posted a short video of the two guys playing a casual game of basketball. One cannot see Cagatay very clearly, but fans can make out his basketball prowess!
Yesilcam is coming back!
Earlier this week, fans received the happy news that Season 2 of Yesilcam will drop on BluTV on Thursday, October 28. It will release the first five episodes that day, presumably with the remaining five coming once a week. The trailer looks amazing, as the cast leaps forward in time to 1969 into the 70s, with new challenges for them to overcome. Will Semih Ates remain the hero figure we came to love in Season 1?
The filming for Season 2 concluded in the early summer and fans had been anxiously waiting. On a post on instagram where Cagatay shared the trailer on his profile, director Cagan Irmak had some wonderful things to say about Cagatay and his craft.
This young man is truly an icon in so many ways and we are proud to be supporting his journey. We will resume our series/ episode reviews once Yesilcam starts streaming. Until then, enjoy!
Cagatay Ulusoy is turning 31 on September 23, 2021. September also happens to be Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and we thought the fandom could unite by raising funds for childhood cancer in their local communities.
Participation is easy!
Step 1: Select a Childhood Cancer organization in your region
Step 2: Make a donation
Step 3: Send a copy of the receipt to email@example.com by September 20, 2021
We will collate all the donations and create a final birthday message for Cagatay, to be shared with his team. If you wish to include a message, please feel free to share one that is less than 20 words. We will include your message as well.
Here are some suggested regional organizations:
Turkey: LÖSEV ~ https://www.losev.org.tr
USA: St. Jude Children's Hospital ~ https://www.stjude.org/
UK: Great Ormond Street Hospital ~ https://www.gosh.org/
Spain: Federación Española de Padres de Niños con Cáncer ~ https://cancerinfantil.org/
Iran: MAHAK ~ https://mhk.mahak-charity.org/
Argentina: Fundación Mateo Esquivo ~ http://www.fme.org.ar/
India: Cankids ~ www.cankidsindia.org
Bangladesh: ASHIC ~ https://ashic.org/
If you have any questions, please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope that in honor of Cagatay, we can make many children smile!
The last episode of the first season for Yesilcam ends on a spectacularly high note, bringing resolution to the conflict between the good and evil we have witnessed thus far. The underdog Semih Ates courageously takes on a well-oiled establishment that includes morally corrupt politicians, morally rigid idealists whose allegiances change due to wounded integrity, morally flexible individuals whose allegiances change due to vested interests, and an amoral system that favors those who can sustainably wield power.
Idealism and the love for cinema is hardly rewarded in Yesilcam, unless a lone hero can stick to his convictions and fight for what is right versus what is expedient.
The episode, titled “The Hell Within Us”, is a testament to the broader environment in Yesilcam as well as the demons we fight within us to strive for the light in our lives. Within this final portion of this journey, we witness Semih’s triumph through him being nothing more than himself. He wins on the truth and finds strong forces in his corner who want nothing more than to believe in his truth. This age old literary trajectory of coaxing the good to win over evil could well become trite, but Yesilcam takes us on a ride to the top, replete with a culmination of well placed clues that allow us perfect closure on Semih’s journey as he lives it within the backdrop of 1964 in Turkey.
Alliances: Camps Formed & Reformed
Winston Churchill said, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” Whether in our everyday life or within global politics, aligning our interests with power bases, collaborating with unlikely allies, choosing to fight as a lone wolf versus adopting a pack mentality, are all part of survival tactics in a competitive space. Yesilcam provides a slice into the social milieu of the times where we see such politicking among ‘friends’ ‘enemies’ and ‘frenemies’, as interests and desires shift within a rapidly changing world.
Izzet, instinctively seeing Semih as a threat, tries to isolate him from his one ally who has important stories to tell. Once again appearing as the smooth-talking benevolent benefactor, Izzet discloses to Turgut that it was Semih who had reported Turgut while Izzet arranges for his release from prison. Idealists such as Turgut often have a rigid self-righteousness that obliterates tolerance, and he takes an instant hatred towards Semih instead of trying to understand Semih’s dilemma in the part he inadvertently played.
Semih had naively believed Rifki’s promises that neither Turgut nor Nebahat will be touched by Rifki’s sponsors if Semih identified Turgut’s handler within the communist network. Rifki had no qualms about reneging on the promise once the handler became exposed as a Russian spy, uncovering a problem deeper than what the powerful Justice Party was willing to deal with. Turgut, unappreciative of Semih’s moral debt towards Rifki, Nebahat, or to himself, comes out of prison with the desire to undermine Semih however he can.
In the meanwhile, Semih suspects Rifki to be responsible for Faik’s death and starts to uncover evidence that can be his trump card if and when the time comes. His desire to protect Nebahat so she can safely stay in Istanbul comes to naught as she chooses to move to Greece with her family in face of such blatant discrimination.
Having connected the dots and tied the murders of Aysel and Faik to Izzet, Nebahat’s impassioned parting speech inspires Semih to write a new expose story titled “Cehannem Icimizde”, where he describes Izzet’s crimes through a fictitious character. He envisions Tulin and Yilmaz Guney as the stars of the movie. Tulin, because he sees this as the only way he can get her to understand the truth about Izzet, and Yilmaz because of his socialist convictions and patriotism while having a popular following as an actor. His intense connection with the audience is, perhaps, best captured in what he says to a cheering crowd towards the end:
“I have all sorts of wounds
Come here, don’t make me cry in front of strangers,
Don’t loosen the lovelocks to the wind
We are in love with our country, friends?
Who is the enemy?
This world is full of lies and deceptions
A world that is run by tyrants
We’ll make you pay for it!
We’ll make you pay!”
By 1964, Yilmaz had already served two years in prison for his supposed communist agenda. If Yilmaz played the role of the villain, the narrative will seem more convincing to the populace. As Semih mentions to Turgut, when Marlon Brando played in The Ugly American, people liked it. In reality, even though the movie did not perform well in commercial terms, it did open a dialogue about the complexities of the politics surrounding the Cold War. Similarly, perhaps Semih feels that whether the movie is a commercial success or not, it may open an important dialogue among its viewers. And, anecdotally, we witness a shift in Semih’s ideologies about filmmaking in Yesilcam; from telling a story that merely entertains and earns money to telling a story that moves people on multiple dimensions.
Belkis emerges as another unexpected ally for Semih, after she neutralizes the threat Reha poses through his back door shenanigans to censor Semih’s movies. In a form of blackmail through using his daughter’s drug abuse and promiscuous behavior, Reha learns of Semih’s parentage and bows down to the power of his mother Belkis, who still maintains strong ties within the system. Semih’s movie on the worker’s rights gets unblocked and Belkis gets back the script for Iki Kizkardes, the first script Turgut had written for him where Semih envisioned its success through Tulin and Mine playing the two sisters.
While her actions inspire Reha to extend support to Izzet’s persecution of Semih, it also brings some protection for Mine and paves the way for Semih in positive ways.
Through these interconnected relationships and vested interests, power dynamics shift and Semih begins to consolidate his staid camp of supporters. Even Vehbi proves his mettle when push comes to shove and demonstrates that for all his blustering sense of self-importance, he knows how to be on the right side. What is interesting is that one learns how much these can happen because the ‘system’ wants it to happen.
Turgut’s new handler within the communist movement tries to calm Turgut’s angered response to what he believes to be Semih’s betrayal. Turgut is asked to ‘follow orders’ and continue to work with Semih. Unable to just accept these orders, Turgut paints Semih to be a greedy manipulator in the eyes of Yilmaz Guney, who had earlier accepted Semih’s offer to be in his movie designed to expose Izzet. This creates friction for Semih when Yilmaz pulls away from the project, but eventually Yilmaz changes his mind because the party convinces him otherwise.
Without Semih’s expressed intention to be a beacon for the communist movement, but because of his courageous stance to bring meaningful cinema into Yesilcam, the movement understands his power as someone who can help stall the narrative being expounded by the Justice Party (which had the backing of the electorate that supported the now disgraced Democrat Party).
During the course of the episode, as Semih’s script begins to gain notoriety and Izzet’s crimes get discovered by the Justice Party as well, Rifki also tows the party line. Izzet’s fall from grace is rapid and instead of seeing him as the untouchable heir apparent for the party leadership, Rifki also ‘follows orders’ and supports Semih in his illusion filled final confrontation with Izzet. At the end, both Rikfi and Semih acknowledge each other for what they are – survivors.
Semih is nothing but a tool for these two camps, and towards the end of the episode one wonders if he fully understands the gravity of the predicaments he is entering into as a civilian government led by the Justice Party looks to make a comeback in the 1965 elections amidst all these political games.
The Purity of Love
Since Semih’s earlier decisions to trade Tulin’s contract as an offensive measure against Reha, Tulin had been drawing away from Semih and closer to Izzet, allowing herself to succumb to Izzet’s lavish wooing. She is disheartened by her broken ideals about Semih, and cannot bring herself to believe that Semih continues to have her best interests at heart.
He is finally able to convince her otherwise the night she goes to Izzet’s home, with the intention to perhaps give herself to him. Semih had been snooping and he is able to show her photographic evidence of Izzet’s heinous actions he had been trying to warn her about. Tulin understands and is able to extricate herself from Izzet and finally embrace Semih fully.
As Izzet ups the ante in his offensive against Semih, Tulin demonstrates her unquestioned loyalty, unwilling to let go of Semih's hand even when her person is in danger. Very subtly done, but Semih’s expression of gratitude and repressed love is just as beautiful as Tulin’s expression of complete joy and purpose. On the run from Izzet’s vast power within law and order, Tulin takes Semih to take refuge in Beliks’ house, unaware of his biological connection to Belkis.
By this time, Semih is aware of the role Belkis has played in sidelining Reha, and he respects Tulin’s bond with Belkis. After years of resisting any connection with Belkis or her offers of support, Semih enters her home with Tulin. Interacting with Belkis on the behest of his woman was something Semih was unwilling to do for Mine, but he does so for Tulin.
The trialogue among the characters is so artistically managed, the depth of the scene as Tulin, Belkis and Semih chat while seated around the table can only be understood through the performance of the masterful actors. Tulin’s innocence, Belkis’ joy at just being able to talk with her son, Semih’s surprise that his mother has followed his career far more closely than he ever imagined, his acceptance of Tulin’s depth of feelings for him but wondering how much of it is deserved, and his iconic statement that, ‘People who feel like they are in (moral) debt are usually the good ones’; together these capture an exchange of philosophies among characters that share a different kind of soul connection.
Triumph of Good Over Evil
For 10 episodes, several disparate but connected threads were magnificently brought together by the storytellers that builds a rich narrative about a hero’s journey set amidst the realities of the era in Yesilcam. Through Semih’s lens , we experience all the ways he lost his dignity and power, and all the ways he won them back. He did this by finding himself and his truth, and growing as a person to care more for the others around him than his own agenda.
With remorse from his past with Uncle Kosta, he is driven to protect his niece Nebahat. With remorse from failed relationships, he is driven to provide Tulin the respect she truly deserves. With remorse from his misguided efforts to help Nebahat and Turgut, he is driven to a political awakening that gives him the courage to confront a corrupt system. To grow with his decisions throughout the tale has been an outstanding experience as an international fan.
Good storytelling presents conflicts in a way that allows some tension within the audience and leaves us in some ambiguity about who will ultimately win and how. Even though we had faith that Semih will eventually win, we experienced so many of his low points throughout the series that towards the end we remained unsure if his bluff regarding Yilmaz and Izzet would come to fruition. When it finally does, the triumph is spectacularly captured, as Semih, Yilmaz and Tulin hold hands, presenting a unified front that captures the depth of the win.
A win not only of a good cinema, but of the truth and conviction. It is a fitting tribute to Semih’s guiding light – Uncle Kosta – whom he nods to as he reaches this particular peak in his career.
There are three major revelations in the last episode that I had suspected through cinematic clues provided in earlier episodes. One is the revelation of Mine as Izzet’s lover, Rifki as a conspirator in Faik’s killing, and the depth of Tulin’s love for Semih. I enjoyed the cinematic clues presented innocuously to the viewers throughout the episodes because it shows intelligent filmmakers speaking through cinema to an intelligent audience.
I wanted to showcase some of these clues laid bare for the attentive viewer, which makes me go back to certain episodes multiple times to understand what more I missed in my earlier viewing.
Mine’s Calling Card
In Episode 8, as we see Mine navigate the fallout of the public discovery of her illicit affair with Reha, she meets with Izzet. Her provocative attire coupled with her damsel in distress demeanor is her calling card to Izzet. She is telling him through her actions that she is willing to do what it takes to have him in her corner. As such, when later in the episode we have Faik, the peeping Tom, video tape Izzet with his lover for the night, I had assumed it is Mine.
Not only from her come hither attitude from their earlier meeting, but also Izzet’s demeanor as an amorous lover is different than the dominant role he plays with his hired women. We are given a red herring in the next episode when we see Ceylan the prostitute with visible signs of abuse we know Izzet to inflict, and are led to believe that Faik recorded Ceylan with Izzet. However, through his hidden stash of photos that Semih discovers, we learn that it was actually Mine.
It’s All In The Shoes
After Semih and Hakan stumble upon Faik hanging with a noose around his neck, Semih sees someone hiding behind the curtain who is presumed to be connected to the death. We are led to believe that it is Izzet but the clue lies in the shoes Semih sees. They were tassel loafers belonging to a small man, and only one character had been shown wearing that particular style and that is Rifki. His shoes were prominently shown in Episode 7, when he goes to meet Izzet at the restaurant, and his wardrobe and style does not change throughout the series.
Even though the insinuation is that it is Izzet, the particular attention to wardrobe choices show that all of Izzet, Semih, Reha and otherwise sharp-dressed men typically wear longwings. Semih is shown to be a master at noticing these details and the clue, as well his character making the connections, is an important cinematic detail.
Tulin and Semih do not share any overt romantic interludes throughout the episodes, unlike the passion shared by Semih and Mine. What is shown is subtle but meaningful. Their exuberant but shared idealism about cinema and a fascination with Mandrake the magician, Semih’s growing admiration for Tulin, Tulin’s silent love for Semih discussed through innuendos with Belkis, and the depth of her love captured in her resentful indignation when she feels Semih has fallen off the pedestal she had put him on, are artistic details that effortlessly blend into the story.
She is jealous when she finds him with Mine, and she is utterly taken when she finally understands that Semih did, after all, choose her over his career and Mine. He went to great lengths to try and protect her from Izzet and she realizes he would not have done that if he wasn’t the special man of her dreams who felt something special for her. As such, the power of this scene, where there is a silent but open acknowledgement by both about their feelings for each other, is so powerful.
Maybe some will not like the lack of emotional bonding typical in dizis with a romantic plot arc, but I thought the subtle approach left much to my imagination about the depth of the characters’ feelings. When Tulin comes to Semih on her own, without any further overtures from him, it was yet another artistic choice to show how much she loved him already. A daughter of a promiscuous, flighty mother, Tulin is cautious about whom she allows to be in her inner sphere, and for her to choose Semih in this manner, to stand by him when the rough gets going, to not let go when so many others abandoned him, shows the intensity of her love, both to Semih and to the viewers.
My reviews got longer and longer with each successive episode. The narrative got richer with time, and as an international viewer who did not enter this journey with any preconceptions about Yesilcam, I could truly appreciate the production for its depth and range of storytelling choices. Through a desire to educate myself, I learnt how much preparation the actors and the filmmakers had to go through, to ensure historical accuracy in diction, wardrobe, set design, events, and more.
I have said this in earlier reviews but it is worth mentioning it again. Yesilcam is an important production that showcases Turkey’s rich filmic, social, cultural and political history, and also showcases the unique filmmaking expertise Turkey continues to hone as the industry goes through rapid changes. Cagan Irmak, in particular, is a perfect fit to lead this production as its director, with his rich experience as a thought-provoking director, screenwriter who has researched the Yesilcam era extensively for his own work.
Season 2 will come back with a five year time jump and the whole series will be set in 1969, which is another important political time and election year. The year is a pre-cursor to the next military coup of 1971, with growing strife between the left-wing and right-wing extremists pushing the country towards chaos. By this time Yilmaz Guney shifts from being a popular actor to owning his own production company, and by the early 1970s he’s begun to make movies with a political message for the masses. Economic pressures reshape the kinds of stories told by Yesilcam and perhaps we get to see how Semih Ates’ journey shifts during these changing times.
I loved that the series combines a romanticism for filmmaking with the harsh realities of the not too distant history in Turkey. It, perhaps, also inspires us to look closer at how the Turkish entertainment industry is reimagining itself through the wildly successful dizis, and a revival of its feature film industry. Digital platforms are also changing how filmmakers can access a ready audience. One thing is certain: the rise of Turkish cinema is far from reaching a peak.
My heartfelt gratitude to the exceptional screenwriters, director, actors, producers and crew, whose humility and brilliance have added this iconic series to a growing portfolio of shows worthy of wider international recognition. A special nod of recognition to the ever versatile Cagatay Ulusoy, who has an internationally successful Netflix movie Paper Lives, a celebrated short film Birdie which he scripted, produced, directed and is now making the rounds at various film festivals in USA, and this amazing turn as Semih Ates on a local digital platform, all within the first half of the year. It has been a pleasure to follow his career as he remains an elusive celebrity but a prolific trailblazer for young filmmakers anywhere.
We excitedly await Season 2, which is rumored to drop on the platform in August. The teaser captures a different energy and more risqué intrigue coming on various fronts, along with added members to the cast.
Even though fluid relationship statuses were common among celebrities of the Yesilcam era, I will hope that as a work of fiction Yesilcam will take some artistic liberties and continue to show Semih as the heroic filmmaker with a moral compass who faces his mistakes and inspires those around him to do better.
We echo Nebahat’s sentiments she shares as her parting words for Semih, “…there is no point to say I wish it didn’t happen. It’s something I learned from you. Even if the fire reignites after it dies down, then we need to appreciate the excitement that keeps the fire alive. We can start all over again. … You always had an answer. You made movies again. You started a new story again. You’ll write again. You’ll make the movie. I believe in you, Mr. Semih.”
I will conclude today with a short documentary I found on Film Freeway titlted Yesilcam Sokagi: Yolun Basi, by director Tolgahan Savgu. It shares some great insights about the Yesilcam era by Engin Çağlar who was a star of Yesilcam and chairman of the Filmsan Foundation
Enjoy and be well, until I am back again with episode reviews for Season 2.
Article (c) CUNA & @entrespire/ twitter
Please follow CUNA on facebook at: www.facebook.com/cagataynorthamerica
and stay away from the fake pages. This is the only page officially affiliated with North America TEN
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In the review for Episode 8, we referred to an article that talks about the breadth of erotic films made in Yesilcam, a practice that grew in the late 1970s for cash strapped filmmakers after the launch of the public television network TRT changed the consumer’s movie going behavior. Eda Savaseri also mentions in her article on Yesilcam that between 1975 – 1980, the Yesilcam legacy is mostly remembered through erotic films, often inspired by Italian erotic comedies. In 1979, 131 out of 193 movies were erotic.
The first mentioned article references Serif Goren, a celebrated and revered director, who has worked with Selin Sekerci in the 2011 movie, Ay Buyurken Uyuyamam.
He is also known as a co-conspirator of Yilmaz Guney and directed many of Guney’s films that Guney wrote while in prison. It is said that Yilmaz would provide full descriptions of what he wanted filmed, but Goren also developed his own style. Yilmaz Guney was mentioned by the scriptwriters of Yesilcam as an important filmmaker and an inspiration used for the series. He appears as a character in Episode 6, will do so again in the season finale and he was very much a known and prolific Yesilcam personality in the 1960s, at the time best known as an actor. Yilmaz started directing his own movies in 1965, a year after the time depicted in Season 1 of Yesilcam.
As Guney grew more sympathetic with socialist principles, and it reflected in his work and activities, he had repeated run ins with the law and order, and spent significant portions of the 70s in prison, with his latest 19-year prison term doled out for killing a judge. This last accusation remains fully unproven, and in 1981 he managed to escape from prison and fled to France. During this last stint in prison, and through his escape, he and Goren collaborated again to film and produce Yol, which went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1982.
Despite such a prolific filmmaking pedigree, Guney’s associate Goren had also incorporated erotic elements in his 1976 film Taksi Sofuru. Such seems the reality of survival in Yesilcam in the 1970s.
This week’s title “Seyli Film” is rooted in putting a spotlight on this part of Yesilcam, in its infancy in the 1960s when the erotic films were produced for private clients. “Sey” means something one cannot name literally because it is shameful (thank you, V.S.), and “Seyli Film” refers to the erotic films, which we see in this episode through multiple scopes. While the erotic films begin to make its way into the survival of Yesilcam, it also provides the foundation through which Izzet and his dark side gets exposed to Semih.
Dreams Are Meant To Be Broken
Unlike Tulin’s accusation that greedy Semih will survive any situation, with Nebahat’s departure, Turgut’s arrest and Semih’s inability to find other funds because of his unwillingness to transfer Tulin, he declares bankruptcy and sells off his company’s physical assets. Tulin’s inexperience is the veil in front of her eyes such that Semih’s transactional machinations seem to be the lowest crime in Yesilcam. She is unable to imagine the dark reality of Yesilcam that Mine and Belkis have lived, or the kind of reality men like Reha/ Izzet perpetrate through their duplicitous choices. Like Semih, her dreams are entwined with creating beautiful movies and touching people’s hearts through Art. It feels as though Semih understands Tulin’s innocence and doesn’t want her to lose it like he had to.
Both their idealism tested, Semih absorbs Tulin’s sharp and hurtful words, and goes about his way to make amends for his role in Turgut’s incarceration. He learns from Rifki that Turgut’s handler within the Turkish police force was actually a Russian spy (or so it is claimed), and as such Turgut’s release is no longer in Rifki’s hands. As I mentioned in the review for Episode 8, due to the local political storms of the times, communism was treated like a state enemy, and people were persecuted in various ways.
This targeting of the socialists/ communists or factions that questioned the class system were not new. The writer Orhan Kemal, mentioned last week as one whose literary work was influenced by his cell mate Nazim Hikmet, was first incarcerated in 1938 merely for expressing his political opinions, much like Turgut’s first stint of being arrested for mentioning American imperialism in a class. At the time of his imprisonment, Orhan was neither influential nor known. This totalitarian approach of wanting to control the social narrative by curtailing expression has only helped to raise the visibility of the ones persecuted and, within 20 years, Kemal’s books are in the hands of the common public.
We have a similar situation with Turgut, who has become blasé about being in prison, and takes his predicament in good humor. His character is the prism through whom we get insight into the minds of an intellectual who is aware of social injustices, and only wishes to use the strength of his words to peacefully protest the status quo. And yet, his mild attempts are repeatedly and brutally curtailed by parties unable to handle the truth. This intolerance for contrarian ideals exists in almost all societies, and different slices of stories from different slices of time illustrate over and over again that history has taught us nothing.
Utopian and idealistic dreams truly are meant to be broken.
Almost every female character in Yesilcam has a lot of agency. None are depicted as the traditional home bodies whose sole job is to support the aspirations of the patriarchy. All of Belkis, Mine, Tulin, Sebnem (Reha’s wife), Adviye (Tulin’s mother) and even Aysel (now deceased) and prostitute Ceylan, are portrayed as women of substance who had to make difficult choices in the journey of life.
With Mine’s affair out in the open, Sebnem is not deluded by Reha’s vacant promises of being true to Sebnem. Sebnem is aware of the platonic marriage she has but cannot tolerate being publicly belittled by Mine and having society perceive that Reha prefers a young starlet over the accomplished Sebnem. As such, Sebnem accepts Reha’s infidelity and has no qualms about publicly shaming Mine through a smear campaign designed to crush Mine’s existence in Yesilcam. With such negative publicity associated with her name, no one will want to work with Mine any longer.
It doesn’t matter that it is Reha who went outside of his marriage and had an affair with a single, divorced woman; Mine will pay the bigger price. After all, ‘boys will be boys’, and it is a woman in the form of Sebnem who helps to perpetuate the notion. Women often become the worst version of themselves when faced with credible competition.
A Perfect Storm
Hakan sells the erotic film he makes last week to Faik, a voyeuristic photographer and a closet pimp who supplies private clients with the blue films and access to professional prostitutes or young girls willing to sell their bodies. Faik is the one who had supplied Izzet with his pornographic films, as well as Aysel, who often had visible bruises from Izzet’s sadomasochistic sex games. Hakan, who had dated Aysel for a while, doesn’t know who the end customer for his film is or who Aysel had a relationship with, but he just knows it’s a big wig. It could either be a powerful businessman or a politician, and the less Hakan knows the better.
Hakan hides the source of his money from Semih and trusting his partner, Semih uses the money to repay Izzet’s debt. During the exchange, Izzet doesn’t spare Semih a moralistic lecture and belittles everything about him. He slings the ultimate insult and tells Semih, “How could we trust you with our culture?”
The hypocrisy is deafening when one sees it coming from a man who escaped into the luxury of Hollywood when his party was persecuted for their crimes against the public, who hides a second life that traumatizes young women, who is vicious and unscrupulous. From his window-dressed persona of being an upstanding citizen, he ‘defines’ and preaches morals and culture, while he plans to marry a woman for the social standing but already cherry-picked his mistress in Tulin.
Tulin is getting seduced by Izzet with lies and his mask, and as she slowly begins to respond, she becomes unwilling to listen to Semih’s caution. Semih has broken her trust in unanticipated ways, which she has internalized and she thinks she can do the same with Izzet.
Unbeknownst to Hakan, Faik had supplied Izzet with Ceylan, along with the film Hakan made, video taped Izzet’s nighttime shenanigans from the neighboring room in the hotel, and is aware that Izzet is the one who brutally beats up Ceylan during the night. Ceylan’s pimp targets Hakan but soon realizes that it’s a dead-end. During the altercation, Hakan sees that Ceylan has the same bruises on her wrists and ankles that he had seen on Aysel, and he understands that both have been victimized by the same man.
Separately, when charged by a studio owner who is flabbergasted that Semih edited an erotic film at his establishment, Semih comes to understand what Hakan has done for money. He wants to make sure that Faik didn’t leak any linkage to the producers of the film as the whole enterprise is contrary to the imprint Semih wishes to leave in Yesilcam. During a heated exchange with Faik, Semih correctly links a few clues and understands that Faik’s private client is Izzet.
When Semih goes back to Izzet’s office to hand out his own lecture, Rifki barges into the office (with information about someone with a peep hole into Izzet’s hotel room). Semih makes the connection to Rifki, Izzet, the Justice Party preparing for a come back, and their extreme fight against ethnic minorities and the communists. He understands that games around him are far more intense than he had ever understood.
Semih shows restraint and finally appreciates that, in Yesilcam, knowledge is power. Getting the truth off one’s chest may be liberating, but it is not always rewarding. He internalizes Izzet’s political connections with Rifki, Izzet’s budding relationship with Tulin and his connection to Faik, and walks out of the office without letting Izzet understand the extent of his comprehension. Through a perfect storm of circumstances and plot choices, Semih eventually also understands the depth of Faik’s connection to Izzet and how Izzet is also behind the brutalization of Aysel and Ceylan.
Instead of tipping his hand to Izzet, when Semih and Hakan go to confront Faik, they find him dead by hanging. Like Aysel, the insinuation is that Izzet is behind the death.
Dreams Are Our Guiding Light
When Semih was accused of producing porn films, and he understands what Hakan has done, his first line of defense is to tell the studio in no uncertain terms that his company had nothing to do with it. His next step was to make sure no one other than Faik knew that Hakan had anything to do with the film. Semih is intent on protecting the reputation of his company as one that touches people’s hearts with the stories they tell. He may go bankrupt (not his first time) but he wants to walk the streets of Yesilcam with his head held high.
Even though he knew he could have the funds to recover his business if he transferred Tulin’s contract, he doesn’t do so to protect her when he understands that Izzet has his unprincipled sights on her. He tries to follow the path of what seems right, with faith that good things will come his way.
A man who is guided by intuition, we are privy to another one of Semih’s dream sequences, used as a plot mechanism to give us insight into Semih’s subconscious mind. This time, the players are Uncle Kosta, Turgut, Nebahat and Tulin, who are all gathered in Semih’s kitchen. Through a short exchange, Uncle Kosta tells Semih to watch Tulin carefully and not let her go. I have mentioned in previous reviews that Semih has been abandoned by important women in his life, such as his mother and Mine. He understands the self-serving needs that guided them but, while he could forgive Mine, he cannot forgive Belkis. Given the wall he has built against Belkis, this sense of abandonment is a festering wound within him.
Semih finds something within Tulin that he can respect and regard highly, even if he doesn’t have the words to describe his feelings. Upon Uncle Kosta’s advice, he looks into Tulin’s eyes and asks her not to leave him as well. In his dream, Tulin touches him softly on his neck, and as he wakes up, he caresses the same spot, symbolizing ways that he is affected by Tulin.
As he continues on and still tries to protect Tulin, it becomes apparent that it is this ability to dream when all seems bleak, where we keep questioning all the ways we may have (been) wronged and find better things to reach for, that keeps the human condition moving forward.
While some dreams come tumbling down, others get built and, through the iterations, we make progress.
Semih’s total destruction opened his eyes to the realities around him and as the stakes have grown with the changing political climate and players, we grow with Semih as he better understands how carefully he has to play his hand so that he can truly make his dream come true. That is, tell stories that touches the people’s hearts, because what he has to say is rooted in life’s truths.
And this is the picture of Semih we begin to form through the trailer for the season finale. A self-aware Semih who will not go down without a fight nor just keep telling benign stories of love. He will plan to use artistic expression as a means to call attention to injustice, and let the chips fall where they may.
Yesilcam has proven to be one of the most intelligent shows I have watched in recent times. The well-sketched out characters bring a thriving world to life, and through the political background interwoven into the story, we begin to see how powerful filmmakers such as Yilmaz Guney came to be, who had a burning desire to tell stories in light of his political awakening. He is well known for depicting societal despair, especially through tales from the Anatolian heartlands with many focusing on lives that shared his Kurdish roots. It is entirely unfortunate that he lost his life to cancer when he was only 47, at a time when he had the financial and political liberty to tell the stories he wanted to tell in the way he wished to tell them.
When discussing cinema, much like analyzing a book by an author I respect, I thoroughly enjoy trying to understand the creators' intent and execution. There are only that many stories to tell and that many ways to tell them. Each work stands on its own, and I have loved Yesilcam in its script, acting, production, and overall execution.
Through Yesilcam, we have had the opportunity to meet the minds and the art of some of the finest filmmakers in modern and erstwhile Turkey, and Turkey has had a chance to remember a nostalgic period of its filmic history. Kudos to bluTV and Sunset Films for bringing this important production to the world.
As we head into the final episode of the first season, we hope for a story that ends on a crescendo. Every detail of the storytelling so far points to one and we excitedly await.
Article (c) CUNA & @entrespire/ twitter
Please follow CUNA on facebook at: www.facebook.com/cagataynorthamerica
and stay away from the fake pages. This is the only page officially affiliated with North America TEN
All video clips and photos belong to their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended. Please ask for permission before reprints.
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