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.
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