"A FEMALE PORTRAIT OF RARE INTENSITY"
"A FILM THAT IS COMPLEX AND BRAVE...WITH UNCOMMON DEPTH"
National Union of Italian Film Critics
"A NEW TWIST ON THE SUBJECT OF MOTHER-DAUGHTER RELATIONSHIPS"
"A HUMAN DRAMA SO INTENSE AND POWERFUL, THAT IT WILL LEAVE YOU GASPING FOR AIR."
“UNSPARING AND DEVASTATING...STRIKINGLY GENUINE, CAREFULLY REALIZED AND INCREDIBLY MOVING STORY OF A WOMAN’S LONELY STRUGGLE."
“A TOUR-DE-FORCE TESTAMENT TO THE CURRENT STATE OF TURKISH CINEMA, ALWAYS FRESH AND HIGHLY INVENTIVE”
Nesrin is an urban, middle-class woman recovering from a divorce. She’s quit her office job, abandoned her house in Istanbul, and come to the village house of her deceased grandmother to finish a novel and live out her childhood dream of being a writer. When her conservative and increasingly unhinged mother turns up uninvited and refuses to leave, Nesrin’s writing stalls and her fantasies of village life turn bitter as the two are forced to confront the darker corners of each other’s inner worlds.
Senem Tüzen's debut film Motherland (Ana Yurdu), winner of the FIPRESCI award at the 1-2 competition in this year's Warsaw Film Festival, is a human drama so intense and powerful, that it will leave you gasping for air when it culminates. The film, which premiered a month ago at the Critics' Week in Venice to lengthy standing ovations, delicately portrays an intricate mother-daughter relationship that is both nurturing and destructive, loving and resentful. Its minimalist narrative structure, also written by Tüzen, hides more than it reveals, and cleverly makes use of tormenting absences to inform and guide the presence of two women positioned differently in contemporary Turkish society.
Nesrin (Esra Bezen Bilgin), a divorced middle-class woman, leaves her apartment in Istanbul so she could visit the house of her deceased grandmother, and obtain a peaceful setting to finish the novel she is currently writing. Her conservative mother Halise (Nihal Koldas) shows up at the village unexpectedly, and refuses to leave. The inescapable gravity of her presence puts her daughter's writing plans at risk and drags her unwillfully into an emotional abyss. Nesrin, a powerful woman who has not only untied her marital bonding but has also escaped maternity against the pressure of Turkish tradition, has a hard time dealing with this uncalled-for situation. Her mother is obsessively delivering advice, criticizing her life decisions, and slowly strangling her emotionally. The dynamic between the two becomes emblematic of a much larger generational struggle between conformism and rebellion, tradition and modernity. It addresses an important national issue in Turkey, where millions of people, especially women, need to somehow reconcile their parents' traditional upbringing with their new and modern way of life
Nesrin can hardly speak, but she never stops looking at her mother, staring at a dark reflection of a familiar past she so eagerly wishes to run away from. Vedat O¨zdemir's camera brilliantly captures this dangerously intimate proximity between the two women and manifests the feeling of suffocation. The village, with it narrow alleys, small interior spaces and freezing climate, becomes Nesrin's prison. She is trapped, and Tüzen works hard to visualize her enclosure cinematically. Motherland is filled with dark, only naturally lit, claustrophobic interiors that encapsulate this human drama. The minimalist mise-en-scene, secluding every object (a cell-phone, a laptop, or a traditional cooking dish) as a meaningful symbol, harboring the deterministic fate of Nesrin, a woman trapped within the claws of religion and familial bonds, hopelessly struggling to overcome them and obtain independence.
There is a matriarchal lack that haunts the two women's conversations, that of Halise's mother (and Nesrin's grandmother), who just recently passed away. While Halise cannot find consolation for her loss, Nesrin can hardly partake in her abundant grief, thus making the old woman's absence a guiding force throughout the story. With a few notable exceptions, men are also absent, but the scars they inflict are easily noticeable. Motherland takes place in a small village in Anatolia, where women only sit, prey, cook and gossip about family affairs. The pain they share ceases to be private, but when it really hurts, we realize, no one can alleviate it.
The rumbling surface of this intense but yet restrained drama culminates into a final tectonic shift, whose details I will not disclose. This shocking coda, unsparing and devastating, brings the only moment of tragic clarity in a film, where there is almost no solace and peace. Motherland is a strikingly genuine, carefully realized and incredibly moving story of a woman's lonely struggle. Its austere but precise film language occasionally brings to mind Nuri Bilge Ceylan's highly praised Winter Sleep (Kis uykusu), which levels a similarly unflinching gaze at the tense relationship between two people. At other moments, it is simply a tour-de-force testament to the current state of Turkish cinema, always fresh and highly inventive.
Venice Critics’ Week
We are not in the busy streets of the capital city filled with youngsters but in a remote town in Anatolia, of deserted sidewalks and rundown houses. It is there that women—keepers of memories and pain—talk, wait, pray and get old. Nesrin arrives at night in this “land of mothers,” which is also the reflection of her lost "motherland", filled with rancor, lost expectations, loves and lives left behind, hungry for a future and for sense in this suspended Turkey. It is a country that has already been explored with certain passion in an archaic "Winter Sleep" (geographically identical, humanly similar), by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a film full of awards and prizes, in Cannes and beyond.
The creative strivings of Nesrin, a tormented woman of few words and a long gaze, are dim, almost tedious: she wants to write but doesn't know what. So is her life, in a limbo between the unstable edge of existence, like the mountains that surround her and whose profile we can barely see. She is a woman, but not a mother, because maternity escaped her.
The mothers and grandmothers surround her and try to protect her with old community rites, with
rituals of the word, of the food and prayers. She keeps her friend Emine's confessions (who also lives on the edges of life) and listens to the repeated and increasingly obsessive advices of her mother Halise. She seems incapable of any sort of rebellion, only an immersion in an evasive impulse, a few hinted escape attempts with a broken car that never appears to be fixed, and some abrupt gestures. It is the mirror of today's fluid identity of the urban population that does not embrace the values of rural life and neither does it adapt to the dangerous urban compromises.
Nesrin is a character of rough traits; one that you immediately side with, supporting her with our experiences, not only of cinema. Supporting her with our hearts. We listen to these two woman, we listen to their confessions, their disturbances, we see them getting offended and clashing, crying and kissing, eventually caressing. We feel the weight of families that once were, with extraordinary glimpses of humanity.
"It's easier to be a stone than a mother," is an old saying that Halise shares with Nesrin one night at dinner. Halise adds, though, that only a mother can understand this, which places a thorn in her daughter's flesh. It's something that she had heard from her own mother, who passed away not so long ago and whose ghostly presence is felt in what was her house that now the two woman occupy and continuously clean.
This film tackles the transmission of experiences in a quite unexpected matriarchal community of contemporary Turkey, so distant, terribly distant—perhaps lost—from the urban "civilization." It is this sense of ancientness terribly clashing with the present that the film frames in an unforgettable way. A mother with her lost reasons and knowledge, a daughter with her hidden truths and aspirations.
It is necessary to underline the cinematography of Vedat Özdemir, focused on dark tonalities that mirror the aggravated souls of the women, that are never faintly sweetened. And Metin Çelik's art direction, that transforms the village into a human stage which the motherly and feminine souls reverberate within the interior of homes, bedrooms and kitchen with
objects and food of anthropological precision. With strong and bare images, Senem Tüzen captures this real, and not only ideal, confrontation between the mother and the daughter, between the past made up of tradition and religion, and the present, uncertain keeper of new values and new perspectives.
It is today's Turkey in its most profound sense. Where sadly, politics remain distant, although it would not be of any use.
It is a present that is unfortunately also a warden of violence. Although Nesrin almost invokes it, finds it and bares it in a terrible and suffered way, it nearly becomes an heroic gesture, certainly a tragic one, in order to affirm her individuality, her secularity, her independence. However, she does not know where to ground her feet—where to go and with whom—in her lacerated freedom.
These are the stories and ways of recounting humanity that render Turkish cinema great, and greater.
TWO THIRTY FIVE
in association with UCM
Nesrin...ESRA BEZEN BİLGİN
Habibe Abla...HABİBE DOYGUN
Motherland (Ana Yurdu) had both development and production support from the Turkish Ministry of Culture. While in development, juries awarded it "Best Project" at Thessaloniki Crossroads and Connecting Cottbus co-production markets as well as the Meetings On The Bridge Award in Istanbul. It also participated in the !F-Sundance ScreenWriter's Lab.
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Turkey, Greece | 2015 | color | 96 min | DCP | 1.85 | 5.1 | Turkish