The past year has been another step in Turkish cinema’s rise to global fame. From drama to documentary, horror to history, the country’s talented filmmakers and actors have been applauded on the international stage. If you haven’t watched any Turkish films this year, there is still time to catch the highlights.
The biggest Turkish hit of this year was Mustang by first-time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. Winning the Europa Cinemas award at Cannes, this film has received many positive reviews from inside and outside Turkey. Mustang follows five young sisters in rural Anatolia, where notions of female purity, honor, and marriage collide with the girls’ adolescent spirit. The film is also in the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 88th Academy Awards.
Tolga Karaçelik’s second feature film Sarmaşık (Ivy) was lauded with the Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay awards at this year’s Antalya Film Festival. Sarmaşık actor Nadir Sarıbacak also received the Best Actor award for his performance. This film is an exercise in claustrophobia, placing a group of men on a stranded cargo ship off the Egyptian coast. Cinematographer Gökhan Tiryaki, whose previous work includes Kış Uykusu (Winter Sleep) creates a memorable aesthetic of alienation. As the atmosphere tightens, the men’s minds and realities begin to unravel.
Turkish cinema opened itself to discussion of the Armenian trauma with Fatih Akın’s 2014 film The Cut. Taking place not in 1915 but during World War II, the film Rüzgarın Hatıraları (Memories of the Wind) won the Antalya Film Festival’s Audience Award and took the prize for Best Music. The main character Aram is only identified as Armenian by his name, and he is persecuted for suspected Communist sympathies rather than for his religion. But his nightmares from 1915 and the context of German-Turkish cooperation in World War II provide an evocative backdrop to Aram’s escape to Russia.
In the past, horror movies from Turkey tended to be more comical than terrifying. That pattern changed in 2015 with Can Evrenol’s film Baskın (The Raid), which has received praise from cult horror director Eli Roth. When a police team is called to an abandoned Ottoman police station, they enter an underworld where extreme violence meets questions about justice and the afterlife.
As a country of great cultural and geopolitical importance, Turkey is often in the international headlines. But we rarely hear the voices of Turkish youths who are affected by these issues. The film Artık Hayallerim Var (Through My Lens) follows students from across Turkey as they make their first films about democracy and human rights. In the course of filming, the students have to decide what democracy means for them. Students also discover their own creative potential and have to overcome the technical and social barriers to their films.
If you are looking for more Turkish movies, we have a list of top 7 Turkish movies to watch this winter.