Turkey’s clash of generations hits the screen in “Motherland”

Turkey’s clash of generations hits the screen in “Motherland”

Joshua Bruce Allen
May 31, 2016
  • Anayurdu, Motherland film
    Ana yurdu (Motherland)
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The word “motherland” is so familiar in its political connotations that we might forget the subtler, and yet more fundamental, nuances of its components: “mother” and “land”. Senem Tüzen’s debut film picks apart these semantics through three generations of women: the young urbanite, the traditional mother, and the deceased grandmother. Physically and metaphorically, the grandmother is closest to the land – it is her house in the family’s ancestral village that the young urbanite seeks out to find her roots and finish writing her novel. The unexpected arrival of her conservative mother sets an intergenerational conflict in motion, laying bare a society in flux.

Ana yurdu, Motherland - film

Director Tüzen is open about the amount of inspiration that the film takes from her relationship with her own mother. But the pull of Turkey’s mushrooming cities on the rural provinces, along with the natural shifts in values between generations, means that these conflicts are a fact of life for many Turkish women. “The film essentially focuses on a mother-daughter relationship. Connected to this is a kind of object of desire that we cannot abandon: the motherland,” Tüzen told The Guide Istanbul. “It’s possible to consider the value judgments of the community that it’s connected to, as well as the power relations of current politics, through this special relationship. But the film’s most basic aim is to try to get inside and understand the existential ache inside the human being.”

The claustrophobia of a younger generation

This existential problem is so deeply embedded in ourselves that it might be more clearly felt than it can be described. It is tempting to see this daughter-mother conflict as purely a symptom of modern individualism penetrating a traditional culture – but then again, we might say that youth’s first rebellion against authority happened in the Garden of Eden. While the youth of today are “individualistic”, in 19th-century Russia they were “nihilists” and in 18th-century Europe they were “Romantics”. Through its minutely composed shots and tense dialogue, Tüzen’s film portrays the claustrophobia of a younger generation trying to define itself independently of its elders.

Ana yurdu, Motherland - film

Tüzen describes this as an “ecological conflict”, an unavoidable fact of human life across the generations. “The mother cast her seed on the ground, and the daughter has sprouted. This reminds the mother that she is a mortal being. She performs her struggle against death through her daughter. However much of her inherited system of values she can transfer onto her daughter, that’s how much she will approach immortality. The daughter meanwhile is newly sprouted, so she wants to spread her roots deeper into the earth, to be left to herself, to be an individual.”

Equality in language first

While the film has a female director and a largely female cast, Tüzen is rightly suspicious of classifying her work in gendered terms. “When we say ‘female director’ or ‘women’s film’, we agree to the idea that the norm is films made by men, which explain the world of men. Basically, when you say ‘director’ you mean a man, while if a woman makes a film she is a ‘female director’.” To express Tüzen’s irritation at this habit, visitors to the film’s website at anayurdu.com can download a special Google Chrome extension that adds the word “male” to male directors’ names. “For example, ‘In this men’s film shot in Central Anatolia, male director Nuri Bilge Ceylan…’ Then the comedy of the matter comes out more clearly. We create reality first with our language. That’s why there should be equality in language first,” Tüzen explains.

For screening times in Turkey visit anayurdu.com.