Director: Serkan Aktaş
Writer: Serkan Aktaş
Cast: Mustafa Aydın
Running time: 21mins
The costs of running a film festival often mean they struggle to break even, let alone make a profit. That can make granting fee waivers a very difficult ask – resulting in filmmakers who already struggle to have their voices heard being further marginalised.
Movies told by artists from low-income backgrounds, opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations subjected to international sanctions still need a platform. That’s why Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees are returning for a third season.
Over six weeks, the latest series of Saturday Matinees is showcasing work from places where monetary and legal constraints have prevented the free communication of political and social issues.
The second film in our free-to-view programme comes from Serkan Ataş, a filmmaker based in Istanbul. The film centres on a number of key social issues present in Türkiye, but which will also be all too familiar to people the world over. Most prevalent is the dominant attitudes directed toward those at the very lowest end of society’s hierarchy.
Mazhar Uslu is a bumbling librarian, whose extensive reading list blindsides him to questions of basic empathy. During one fateful shift at his job, he scoffs to a colleague that the amount of Arabic writing in one part of Istanbul will lead to the degradation of the Turkish language. It just happens to be an area where Syrian refugees have congregated, after a last-ditch attempt to flee the war.
While Mazhar actually has very little security in his own life, he is able to sweep his own feelings of anxiety under the rug with his feeling of superiority to these poor, desperate people. Throwing about quotes from ancient poets and philosophers, he celebrates the dismantling of some signage which the refugees had installed, agreeing it is ‘for the benefit of Turkish’ – as if it is a victory that brings any material benefit for him, and not just dog-whistle racism deployed by the government to shift attention away from its failure to actually support its citizens in their daily lives.
After a night plagued by dreams of capsized rafts and refugees plunging into stormy seas, Mazhar awakes to find that as secure as he felt in his status as a Turkish citizen – self-styled defender and beneficiary of the nation’s history and identity – it actually counts for very little. After arriving late at work for an almost-impressive 40 days straight, he has lost his job, and as he begins to drift through the streets of Istanbul, he is taught a series of lessons in both desperation and empathy.
For all his academic bluster, it is telling in this context that this great intellectual’s only companion is a parrot, a creature whose ability to simply repeat things it hears is often mistaken for a higher form of intelligence. This theme is brought to a head through a reworking of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis; a work often deployed as a crutch for pretentious pseudo-intellectuals and half-baked films to show how smart they are, even though – if they have read it – they clearly have not understood it. A breakthrough moment comes when conversation with an acquaintance (Şahin Özgenç) who owns a bookshop sees Mazhar raise his voice that of course he has read The Metamorphosis – but when he is bid to think about what it would feel like to suddenly wake up one morning as something defined as vermin, his recent experiences bring him to think about a text he clearly enjoyed superficially, to bolster his sense of supposed superiority, in a new way.
The art direction of Aktaş and Sinem Kapancı, paired with the cinematography of Hasan Kılıç, does an excellent job of capturing the swirling tumult of the bustling markets of Istanbul, as these thoughts churn around in Mazhar’s mind. At the same time, some innovative camera manoeuvres help depict a psyche that is in danger of splintering under the realisation it is not in the position of dominance it previously thought it enjoyed.
The affable Mustafa Aydın does an excellent job of realising Mazhar as anything other than contemptible. Like Sharlto Copley in District 9, he serves as a flawed every-person, susceptible to the racism endemic in the society which surrounds him, but has a bumbling charm that carries the audience along as he learns he is no more the master of his fate than the mass of oppressed people he has defined his own identity in opposition to.
The Librarian will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 8th of July, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page.
As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE23 to access the film.
Viewers can also vote to score the film out of five stars – the Saturday Matinee which receives the highest score will be declared the winner of the third season.
Stay tuned for another film next week!