His latest movie, İstanbul Kırmızısı, brought Ferzan Özpetek back to his hometown of Istanbul, and with all that has changed over the years, he had something to say about it.
Photos by Yiğit Eken
“Istanbul is changing.” This is a phrase residents of the city have gotten used to hearing, along with “Istanbul survives only in memories.” The latter is also a line from Ferzan Özpetek’s latest movie, İstanbul Kırmızısı. It is easy to put the blame on the city even though it is the people who change the city, not the city itself. “What affects me is not the change in the city, it is the change in people, their behavior and worldview,” Özpetek told The Guide Istanbul.
Istanbul-born screenwriter and director has been living in Italy since 1976, but he keeps coming back to Istanbul for movie shoots or holiday, and because of this, he probably notices the differences that Istanbul residents cannot realize and has included them in this movie.
In Rosso Istanbul—İstanbul Kırmızı in Turkish (Red Istanbul)—Özpetek invites audiences to see how Istanbul can play a huge part in residents’ lives. From the opening scene to the end credits, the movie takes you on a ride with the city, how it revives memories and becomes an actual character in people's stories. The movie is inspired by Özpetek’s book of the same name, which was originally published in 2013. Talking about the film, Özpetek says “it’s a story of an editor who goes to Istanbul after 20 years.” The editor, Orhan (Halit Ergenç), is in Istanbul to work on director and writer Deniz’s (Nejat İşler) book, which is about his family and friends. Deniz disappears the day Orhan arrives in the city, and while looking for him, Orhan faces his past and future in Istanbul.
The movie got mixed reviews from audiences—after the closing credits, people started murmuring, "Is this it? Will there be a sequel? What kind of an ending is this?" Yet this did not upset Özpetek. “I really liked people’s discussions at the end of the movie.” Just like the city, İstanbul Kırmızısı is mysterious, unpredictable, and awe-inspiring.
Through Özpetek’s looking glass
The world, especially Istanbul, might seem very different when you see it from Özpetek’s point of view. The success of his movies comes from showing things in a different light than they are generally perceived. Leaving the theater, if they get past criticizing the movie, the audience can see how important the changes they overlook can be, or look at a traditional concept from a different perspective.
The opening scene of İstanbul Kırmızısı is a construction site on the Karaköy shoreline. The rhythmic sound of a pile-driving machine repeats during the movie’s momentous sequences. “That’s a machine that takes Istanbul’s insides out. With that sound, many things deteriorate, many things change,” Özpetek explains. He fed the sound into the theme song together with the composers of the movie’s original soundtrack, Giuliano Taviani and Carmelo Travia.
“In the mornings I could hear it from my house, and sometimes it blends with the call to prayer and something so profane and so sacred emerges,” Özpetek explains. The way this sound is used in the movie emphasizes the degrading change in the city and is a denunciation of that degeneration.
His directing debut, Hamam (1997), successfully showed audiences outside of Turkey a different side of hammam culture and break stereotypes. “They saw [hammams] as a touristy institution, whereas I shot the movie with a different feeling,” he explains. “Hammams and circumcision, these were matters of shame for everyone during those times.” The critically acclaimed movie went to Cannes Film Festival and other international festivals, sweeping awards in Turkey, Italy, and other countries. “Some people likened it with sexuality, some said otherwise. However, there is a philosophy of reaching the soul by cleaning the flesh in hammams.” Interest in hammams grew quite a bit after the release of the movie. “The owner of Çemberlitaş Hamamı told me, ‘I made loads of money thanks to you,’” Özpetek says.
“Now is the time to visit Istanbul”
Although he lives in Italy and is busy making new movies, Özpetek comes to Istanbul often for 15 days or a month. “Istanbul is a city that offers you thousands of things—it is a city that takes you away. I like to walk the side streets and sit down at small cafes, small places that you’d never think of.” He encourages his non-Turkish friends to visit Istanbul outside the movies as well. “I tell them now is the time to visit Istanbul. Go, stay at Pera Palace Hotel, a hotel that you would dream of. Now it’s very cheap. There is a great restaurant just across the street, Duble Meze. In the past, you would reserve your table two months beforehand. Now it’s empty. There are no lines at the museums,” Özpetek says, reciting his tips.
These days, Özpetek is in Naples shooting a new thriller, Napoli Velata, starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and directing the opera La Traviata for the third time. “I’d be in Istanbul right now if I wasn’t busy preparing another movie.”
Ferzan Özpetek’s Istanbul
Galata, Bebek, Üsküdar, Kuzguncuk