Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Cast: Ayca Damgaci, Hama Ali Kahn
Director: Huseyin Karabey
Language: English, Kurdish, Turkish
Runtime: 93 min.
Gitmek is a special one. One of those little films that do not sweep you away while you’re in there, but gradually settle and register themselves. I sat nervous and fascinated for 93 minutes as I saw chubby little Ayca make an impossible trip into the war-torn Kurdish region. And often, a little scared. In the hope of a loved one. It was only later that I realized, as I walked to the parking lot, how easily the film could have walked right into overblown drama. I drove, I wondered, and I realized what a sweet, simple and profoundly moving film this is. So sweet one might be tempted to label it cute. And I was astonished, for the true events upon which the film is based could be considered anything but that. May be shattering. I ran the movie again in my head and the word traumatic started to condense. That the film wins you over in that remarkably subtle way in which does is a testament to the fact how compassionate Mr. Karabey and Ms. Damgaci (the screenwriter) are. And how honest.
Consider the events. Ayca, playing herself, is a Turkish actress. She fell in love with Hama Ali, a Kurdish B-movie star, on the sets of a film they were both working in. Now, these aren’t Greek gods and goddesses we’re talking about. Hama Ali looks like he is in his 40s, with balding hair and a rather obvious paunch. If you intend to describe him, a more helpful name to get the job done would be Alok Nath, or for that matter numerous other unremarkable-looking folks. At that time, I learn from the Press Kit (link mentioned below), Ali was married and a father to three kids. He is popular for a Superman character he plays that feels utterly goofy, like our own versions of Zorro (Navin Nischol I believe). Ayca, is in her 20s, and with her chubby cheeks and a rather plump disposition, she is hardly the lead actress material we all envisage. She is naïve and every simple-minded thing that comes with the territory. Like having preconceived notions of folks beyond the border, of events like war. She believes an U.S. invasion into Iraq might possibly result in the annihilation of the Turkey. She lives in the heart of Istanbul, and he lives in a small town called Suleymaniye in Northern Iraq (Kurdish region) near the border to Iran. For a common language they have English, and their degree of fluency limits them to such rhetoric as – I want to kiss you millions, or I want to kiss you billions, upon which the reply comes, I want to kiss you hundred thousand millions. How deeper feelings are mined and expressed is something I would leave you to discover, whenever it is you find this film. Suffice to say it involves the answer to all your questions regarding the title, which might suggest a comedy from a distance but when looked from closer quarters reveals a rather desperate form of love.
He sends her video cassettes which perform the function of letters, and he shows her his town and the folks he knows, and the places he frequents. He often inserts a clip from one of his films, and she laughs. How that video cassette finds its way across borders and tensions is for anyone to imagine. Only that it isn’t through FedEx. This happens for over a year, maybe two. I’m not sure. But it is long enough to plant seeds of doubt in Ayca’s mind. You look at her live her everyday life, and when she announces she is going to meet Hama Ali, you almost want to applaud her folly. Does he even love her? She is no longer sure, and neither are we. And she embarks on her little odyssey to seek the love of her life. Across borders, across wars. The way I sound may make it seem a grandiose saga of lost love, and Gitmek is anything but that.
Consider the people Ayca meets along the way, and how nice they really are. It so rarely happens that we meet nice folks at the movies who seem real, and most often what we see are caricatures. But Gitmek works on the age-old principle of observation of everyday life and everyday people, and among many others, we meet two cab drivers who seem the most genuine of people. One of them is Iranian and he speaks in a manner that feels soothing and reassuring. He speaks of cable television and music with Ayca, who is all alone and at her wit’s end, and we laugh not because he is funny but out of the realization and satisfaction he is a good man. A friend of mine recounted how it reminded her of a cab driver in Singapore who was so warm so as to share the details of his family. Cab drivers, more than most of us, meet a lot of people and often there exists an exuberant streak to them. That they are genuine nine times out of ten ought not to be doubted. Some of the best conversations I have had with total strangers have been the auto-rickshaw drivers. I don’t know, but maybe life has been very kind to me.
And that is why I say Gitmek is compassionate. And if it is a little simple-minded, and you know a bit utopian at its heart, so be it. The backdrop is war (Gulf War II) and the hotbed is the Northern region of Kurdistan. Add Iran into the mix and you got dynamite ready to explode. The film though argues against that, by putting forward its characters as arguments. It is not a film where dialogs are spoken to that effect, and in fact almost nobody speaks about the war (and its effects) per se. All we see is people and we feel we almost know them. Ayca does too, and when she listens to an old woman talking at the Iraq border, she is captivated. I was, and for a moment I didn’t pursue the subtitles. Instead I chose to relish a rather fleeting moment of brilliance, where the camera does what it does best – capture a part of life. The old woman is talking about her missing son, and a little girl, probably her granddaughter, is looking at her. It is a sight we see everyday but never pay attention to.
The brilliance is how effectively Gitmek manages to convey all this, and how subtly it registers deep within us a sense of thought we realize only later. Srikanth, who blogs down here (quite an awesome site), comments on my review of Gran Torino ‘how Eastwood has created a truly anti-racist film without much ado about it.’ That is the kind of folks we meet in Gitmek, nonchalant unfussy people. These people know their lives, know their world and making a brilliant job out of living it. Ayca is gobbling her dinner in an Iranian restaurant and her head isn’t covered. A couple on the table nearby merely smile, charmingly, like the way we do when we instantly recognize somebody new to the place. We don’t mean ill-will, but we don’t want to lose out on a smile either. It is a smile of acknowledgment. This is a film that reminds you stuff.
In his native Turkey, Mr. Karabey has been known to be involved in lot many movements supporting democracy, and he has made lot many documentaries to the effect. And here, in his first feature films, Mr. Karabey takes Ayca on a journey through a world she has only seen on television, but never experienced. I saw Gitmek on the last day of the recently concluded 7th Pune International Film Festival, and didn’t happen to remember it as well as I would have liked. As in, to remember details concerning the visual style. Still I could always go back to what I felt during the film, from its initial moments to its final ones. And I distinctly remember perceiving Ayca’s world as a little hole. One that is confined within limited boundaries, as most of our lives are. I’m not sure here but I feel Mr. Karabey chooses to shoot it with its tight close-ups, and employs faster cuts. We move on the journey as Ayca starts exploring the hitherto unknown world, and the film neatly shifts to medium to wide shots, and longer cuts. I felt a real world was being discovered, as if Mr. Karabey intends to imply that the world Ayca is not the real world. Do I agree with that? Nope. Not one bit. But there’s war somewhere out there, and Ayca only knew about it and the world what she saw through her television set. It is strange to relive one’s traumatic memories by making a film like this. And I believe it speaks of a courage that might be absent in most.
Note: Here is the link to Gitmek’s press kit from the Ghent Film Festival 2008. Mr. Karabey speaks of his film at length, and his visual concept. I believe it is an interesting read. You might want to save the MS-Word file, and savor it.
Soona has been kind enough to supply these two links to the trailer of this film, which I intend to share with everybody, alongwith the information that Mr. Karabey might be making a film on the little Kurdish girl I speak of in the review. It is heartening. Thanks Soona for that.
The links are -
Posted by Satish Naidu at 9:47 AM