EMINE – ‘Sivas’: Ain’t no Lassie

‘Sivas’: Ain’t no LassieKaan Mujdeciand#39s andldquoSivas,andrdquo the first debut feature by a Turkish director to compete in the Venice Film Festival, stirred up a certain national pride with local critics and filmmakers alike in Venice this year In fact, when the film received a Special Jury award at said festival, many were expecting that Mujdeci would also land the Antalya AltIn Portakal International Film Festivaland#39s top award for best film earlier this month.But letand#39s face it, thereand#39s nothing certain when it comes to festivals, and when KutluI Atamanand#39s andldquoKuzuandrdquo (The Lamb) received the Best Film Award in Antalya there was a certain level of surprise that Mujdeci had to remain content with yet another Special Jury prize.

Putting aside all the festival hustle and bustle, one has to admit that Mujdeci has brought to us one of the freshest and most intriguing films in the past decade of Turkish cinema I recall talking with a handful of fellow film critics several weeks ago, who concurred that the last time they were so excited to come out of a first film was when Seren Yuceand#39s andldquooIunlukandrdquo (Majority) had screened in Antalya in 2010.andldquoSivasandrdquo is indeed a brutal but familiar tale of testosterone-driven violence and an honest portrayal of the stifling feeling of growing up within a closed and male-dominated society in rural Turkey.

The film drives its course through the most dangerous and risky choices in filmmaking: working with animals and children. Yet Mujdeci plunges in and manages to pull off a stellar performance not only from his young protagonist but also from the fight dog named Sivas (whose real name is akIr).

Mujdeciand#39s egalitarian camera acts an invisible companion to Aslan (DoIan Izci), a young boy who goes to primary school in the outskirts of Yozgat. Aslan wants the role of the prince in a school re-enactment of andquotSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

andquot He doesnand#39t get the part, and ends up playing one of the dwarves. But Aslanand#39s not going to stop, as he needs to be top of everything — he needs to be an andquotAlphaandquot Because even at home, with his father and noticeably older brother, heand#39s just the Omega being kicked around.

Aslanand#39s a mischievous and clever boy, so his huge ambitions do not pose the slightest surprise in fact, we are curious about what heand#39s going to do next.One day he watches from afar a dog-fight organized by the men around the village.

He sees that the beaten dog is just left to die, so he decides to adopt this huge beast that is twice his size. The two strike up a friendship as Sivas finds salvation with Aslan, and Aslan shows off to all his friends his new protector A sequence in which Aslan unleashes Sivas on a another dog for the entertainment of the other children is so well shot that it sends chills down your spine with its evocation of andldquoLord of the Flies.

andrdquoAnd possibly, this is exactly where the problems begin, for the relationship between the dog and the boy, which had begun out of mutual need, transforms into a transactional one as Aslanand#39s father and brother want to continue to exploit the dog for dogfights and Aslan also wants to prove his alpha-maleness by taking control over Sivas. Poor Sivas becomes the tool of the greedy and power-hungry men around himThis is not a maudlin story.

Mujdeci specifically refrains from the wishy-washy style of andldquooh look how cute the little doggie isandrdquo or the andldquounconditional love between speciesandrdquo approach, and bluntly reveals to us the unapologetically exploitative behavior of man versus dog. He also does not shy away from showing the bloodbath that is involved in dog fights.

The feeling brought about during the viewing of this film is one of awe at Mujdeciand#39s bold directorial choices.It is the natural acting of young DoIan Izci that immediately pulls us into the film the boy is not a professional actor but the way he is so comfortable in front of the camera reminds us of our own volatile self at that same age, whether we are from the provinces or the city.

andldquoSivasandrdquo is a must-watch in Turkish cinema this year Despite several gaps in its storyline, the culmination of the experience it presents until the rapturous end scene is worth contemplating about.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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