Gölgeler ve Suretler (Shadows and Faces)
As a regular attendee of the London Turkish Film Festival I was excited to see, for the first time since I’ve been there, the screening of a Turkish Cypriot film. A dominant Greek Cypriot narrative that prevails throughout Europe, and the international economic and political isolation of Northern Cyprus, has meant that insights into the Cyprus conflict from a Turkish Cypriot perspective are few and far between.
So when I saw that the film, Shadows and Faces, written and directed by the acclaimed writer and filmmaker Dervis Zaim, had not only won awards for the 2011 Ankara International Film Festival and 2010 Antalya Golden Orange International Film Festival, but was also being screened in a British cinema, and advertised for a British audience, I was nothing short of ecstatic.
The film is set in 1963, when the Greek nationalist movement on the island was fast gaining momentum. A teenage girl is separated from her father, a shadow puppet master, when the two are forced to flee from their village due to escalating violence. Her attempts to find her father are intertwined with the consequences of an ever increasingly oppressive Greek regime. The story takes place mainly in a mixed ethnicity village, where the puppet master’s brother lives. As the Greek regime becomes ever more repressive, tensions between some of the Greek and Turkish inhabitants arise. After a Turkish shepherd is shot in the head by Greek police violence breaks out between the neighbours and we see how the two communities, who had once lived in relative harmony, sharing food, friendships and even love, are torn apart.
Dervis Zaim must be commended on his effort to depict the realities of the Cyprus conflict for the island’s Turkish minority. Many would be afraid to confront the subject from a perspective that does not tie in with the dominant Greek narrative. However, the film does not come across as nationalistic or anti-Greek. Zaim’s use of the village as a communal space, where a shared locality overrides ethnic divides gives us a sense of the human element that underlies war and conflict. The film is not naive enough to suggest that the two ethnic communities mingled unrestrainedly. However, Dervis Zaim makes it clear that Greek and Turkish neighbours of the village did mix. The scene that introduces us to the village shows a Turkish Cypriot man sitting in a Greek Cypriot cafe, drinking and playing cards with the young Greek men, despite the fact that the village also has a Turkish tea-house. Also, two of the film’s main characters, the shadow puppet master’s brother and his Greek neighbour share a friendship that seems to date back to their childhood. As the film comes to an end, we learn that even the shadow puppet master himself had a Greek sweetheart in his youth. Ultimately, it is the imposition of the wider Greek regime’s ideologies on the specific locality of the village and the tensions and paranoia that arises from this that turns the two ethnic groups from neighbours into enemies.
The cinematography in the film is particularly effective. Light and shadow are used to great effect to create a sense of fear and an increasingly foreboding atmosphere. Wide shots of the Cypriot landscape portray a sense of the island’s beauty and emphasise the tragedy of the conflict, as well as reiterating the idea of a shared land and a shared Cypriot identity. The soundtrack is also very fitting.
However, the film never quite fulfils what it aspires to be. The performances are, on the whole, unconvincing. Expecting to be deeply moved, I found that the actors failed to evoke emotion from not only myself, but also from other audience members. When such an emotive subject is being explored, it is vital that the portrayals of the cast are able to inspire empathy and compassion. Instead, I found that some of us began to lose interest and parts of the film that were, in fact, supposed to be tragic became slightly comical. And although I have enjoyed my fair share of slow-paced movies, this seemed to drag on, with little happening to hold the viewer’s interest. There were also times when it seemed that Zaim was trying just a little too hard to emphasise the idea of friendship and mutual respect between the two communities, and some attempts at this notion came across as too deliberate.
Shadows and Faces is certainly a brave attempt by the director to tackle a complex and emotive subject from a little-known viewpoint. Zaim does do well to give us an insight into the injustices suffered by his own community during the conflicts, without condemning all Greek-Cypriots. He explores the idea of a shared Cypriot identity that linked the two communities, whilst maintaining the reality of the ethnic and religious differences that set them apart from one another – a reality that Cypriot nationalists often want to brush over. However, a failure to hold the audience’s interest and to inspire the required empathy meant that whilst I was expecting to be left deeply affected, I was actually left a little disappointed.
The 17th London Turkish Film Festival continues until 8th December 2011. For more details, please visit: www.ltff.org.uk.
Photo Credits: http://film.iksv.org/tr/film/41
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