by mh musings
Cagatay Ulusoy is a man who not only dreams, but takes deliberate steps towards fulfilling those dreams. In October 2019 in an interview with GQ Middle East, Cagatay said “Just my close friends know I’m going to shoot a film as Director”, and by December of that year, the shooting for his short film “Birdie” had started.
Now playing at the Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi, scripted, directed and produced by Cagatay, Birdie is an obvious labor of love, aesthetically shot with minimal but well-placed dialogues. Shorts are distinguished by the clarity and simplicity of its story being told, and Birdie delivers perfectly towards this goal. A synchronicity and an inner alignment with life’s core values, a reverence for mother nature and the yin yang of the universe is captured beautifully in a 20 minute film, which also serves as a reflection of the understated Cagatay his fans have come to love.
In his 2020 feature article for Hello!, Cagatay shared two insights about his thought processes, that are captured in the story of Birdie. The first is “Whatever it is I need to learn to survive, I learnt it from the sea and the fish” and appropriately, the protagonist in his story is an elderly fisherman who leads a simple existence by himself in a sparsely populated part of the country.
Ensconced in a dilapidated shack by the river that is nestled in the reeds, Halit Amca’s life is sustained by his respectful relationship with nature. He only collects as much as he needs for his existence, either consuming his catch or bartering it for basic supplies from a local store.
During a medical visit, he is told of the need for an expensive surgery and that the failure to have timely intervention might lead to an amputated leg. Resigned to his fate, he accepts that he may lose his leg, and in a poignant moment where he converses with his two legs, it is as though he is chatting with two beloved pets and consoling one for the loss of its life-long pair.
Serendipitously, Halit saves a finch from a bird of prey and heals its broken wing with much love and care. The finch becomes his beloved companion and his day’s purpose now includes keeping the bird fed and nurtured. In turn, the bird entertains him with beautiful clear, tunes and is particularly responsive to a harmonica Halit collected in his net during one of his fishing expeditions.
Halit meets Mashallah, a simple shepherd who keeps finches as pets so he can participate in an annual tradition of the sport of finch-keeping in a café contest, a practice rooted in the Greek population of Turkey. Mashallah used to participate with his father but has never won the 50,000 lira prize. Mashallah wants to buy the finch, but Halit disdainfully turns him down as the bird is his friend and certainly not for sale.
Once healed, Halit frees the bird but almost as though the bird heard the call of Halit’s despair as his leg worsens, the bird comes back.
Halit consents to the competition and, through some wonderful cinematic crescendo of birdsongs, the “Kus” triumphs for Halit and Mashallah. This leads to Halit being able to avail the much-needed surgery to save his leg.
And this brings us to the second of Cagatay’s epiphanies that echoes in this story.
Just as Halit saves the bird’s broken wing, the bird saves Halit’s broken leg, and they heal each other in an exquisite way. There is indeed a give and take balance in nature, and in a world that we inhabit together, we are rewarded if we seek ways to co-exist in a respectful manner.
And Birdie is a story told simply about some of these fundamental wisdom in life.
Veteran actor Turgay Tanulku is perfection as Halit, who captures a spectrum of emotions of a simple man at the juncture of a difficult life situation. We see his sad acceptance, but also his resilience as he continues with life, giving back in ways he can. He makes one question the age-old dilemma about our wants versus needs, and illustrates how basic our needs can be in a world that thrives on conspicuous consumption. We experience his heartfelt joy alongwith him when his love for the bird reflects in the bird’s love for him.
In an unexpected appearance, we have Ersin Arici playing the role of Mashallah, and his small role is just as impactful as his role as Gonzi is in Paper Lives. A clear-hearted soul, he is driven by honoring his father’s memory. Subtle expressions and mannerisms portray his reverence towards the elderly, perhaps accentuated by the loss of his father. This is the strength of a good actor who does not require a depth of dialogue to convey the character’s inner soul.
Cagatay is fortunate to have such master acts as a part of his first major film project.
Underscoring the theme of the power of nature and how it can impact mankind in positive ways, the expansive shots are crisp and inviting, with muted and heart-pleasing colors. It is evidently captured by someone who appreciates the simple nuances of the natural world. There is a minimalism to the chosen locations and, unlike many Turkish shows that make it a point to display the majestic Istanbul, there is an intimacy to the shots as though the viewer is welcomed into the space to journey along with the characters.
An Old Soul
As we shared on the first day of the film’s release, the shack used for Halit Amca is the same one Cagatay is found in for his guest appearance on Menajerimi Ara in September 2020.
In Birdie, the shack is quite dilapidated and ill-kempt, whereas in Menajerimi Ara it is a well-maintained retreat. It may very well be owned by Cagatay as he claims in his appearance - it is the place he comes to so he doesn’t ‘lose himself”. The old soul in him translates into his first story that he has presented to the world, and it is as much an ode to his guiding principles in living an exploratory but meaningful life as it is to old traditions of his land.
We are very excited to support the growth of this movie and hope it gets accepted into other major film festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, Telluride and more. As it is, this is Birdie’s third appearance at a festival with the first two being at the Montecatini International Short Film Festival in October 2020 and Santa Monica International Film Festival in November 2020. Birdie’s appearance at Oxford marks a regional premiere for the film.
Confirmed by Indie filmmakers in Hollywood, without the producer’s authorization, we cannot really share photos and videos of the movie, but we do have permission from the organizers of the Oxford Film Festival to share some screenshots. Here is a short video with highlights from the movie, where one can get an idea of the splendor of Cagatay’s cinematic eye.
As he says in his interview with GQ Turkey released today, “I am still on the journey, the process continues for me with a lot of learning.”
Your fans await more.
Article copyright (c) CUNA & mh Musings