The 41 st Istanbul Film Festival featured a range of visions, ideas, and aesthetic experiments, balancing innovation with intellect, yet managed to focus on the historical moment nonetheless.
Many Turkish films tackled traditionally taboo subjects, but films from the four corners of the earth depicted the most pressing and talked about crises.
The Ukraine crisis, for example, was present in a number of films which, even though the selection process preceded the invasion, cannot have been coincidentally curated. Both Valentyn Vasyanovych’s Reflection and Oleh Sentsov’s Rhino, the latter a German-Polish coproduction, present Ukraine as pure good in the face of the pure evil that is Russia in ways that undermine the dramatic principle that there should be no absolute good or absolute evil.
At the other end of NATO, in Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush, the German filmmaker Andreas Dresen the struggle of a Turkish-German woman to locate her son, who was taken to Guantanamo is closely and sensitively documented.
Despite her pain, the mother feels no hatred towards other human beings. She is driven by love, and her alliance with her American lawyer, whom she never meets, is further evidence of the possibility of human solidarity.
European double standards resurface in the Spanish filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa’s comedy The Good Boss, which deals with the veteran actor Javier Bardam embodying the more pleasant face of capitalist corruption, a kind of delicate personification of evil.
Managing a huge company, he rules over his employees through tempting them with ever more profit, playing patriarch until they are no longer useful and then casting them out like so much waste.
When the destitute Jose is fired, however, he starts a protest that develops into a sit-in in the factory’s entryway. This attracts media attention, and so the good boss hires thugs who usually attack immigrants to remove Jose. He fights back and ends up killing one of them, resulting in a complex tragic scandal. Yet the good boss still emerges triumphant at the end.
The French pop icon Aurélie Saada’s debut Rose, which she cowrote with Yaël Langmann and wrote the music for, is a lyrical, feel-good comedy that suggests that anything is possible at any age. Following the death of her husband at the age of 78 the Parisian woman Rose (Françoise Fabian), a wife, mother and now grandmother surrounded by family all her life, ends up suddenly alone.
At the opening she is happily attending a party with friends from the Tunisian Jewish community, but no sooner have we seen her smile than she is confronted by the impossible question of how to exist and prove herself in a society that only values youth.
But Saada seems to argue that age is an oppressive social construct intended to subdue and control people. The right to exist, to feel alive, turns out to be a struggle worth pursuing – and Rose leads a whole revolution to express her desires and enjoy her life. As it turns out she can be more than a widow and a grandmother after all.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.