Turkish Cinema: Vavien

Durul Taylan and Yağmur Taylan are called by many Turkish film critics as Turkey’s Coen Brothers. They made their first feature film “School” (“Okul”) in 2004 and the second one “Little Apocalypse” (Küçük Kıyamet”) in 2006. Their third and latest film “Vavien” (2009) is now accepted as their best film.

Sweeping the prestigious awards

“Vavien” has received many prestigious awards in Turkey. For example, it managed to get two Golden Tulip Awards for the Best Film and the Best Screenplay from the National Jury of the 29th İstanbul Festival Film Festival on April 17, 2010. The film also received a third award at the same festival, which was the International Federation of Film Critics Prize, known as the FIPRESCI Prize.

Among the other awards the film has received, are three Yeşilçam Awards 2010 for the Best Music (Atilla Özdemiroğlu), the Best Actress (Binnur Kaya) and the Best Screenplay (Engin Günaydın). The film also received the Sadri Alışık Award for the Best Actress (Binnur Kaya).

In addition, the film got 5 of the Turkish Film Critics Association Awards 2009 (known as SİYAD Awards in Turkey): the Best Music (Atilla Özdemiroğlu), the Best Art Direction (Elif Taşçıoğlu), the Best Actress (Binnur Kaya), the Best Supporting Actor (Settar Tanrıöğen) and the Best Screenplay (Engin Günaydın).

What “Vavien” is about and why it is so good

“Vavien” is a black comedy telling us the story of a family living in a small town in the Black Sea region of Turkey. Celal is the local electrician who wants to get rid of his wife Sevilay, a dutiful Turkish wife. They have a teenage son.

This may all sound ordinary and familiar. However, as soon as the story unfolds, the beautifully written screenplay starts revealing in a witty manner that each member of the family has something to hide from one another. Through symmetrical depictions, family secrets are revealed. In one scene we see Celal hiding his adult video collection and in the next scene we see the teenage son uncovering it, watching it, and then putting the CDs back in their hiding place. Meanwhile the father hears all of this as he is down in the cellar taking his wife’s secret money which her father has been sending from Germany for the last 15 years in case she is dumped by her husband one day.

One of the things that makes “Vavien” an extraordinary film is the way it unearths the hidden. Metaphorically the film takes photographs of a Turkish town and its people. The audience is, in return, expected to think about very important matters such as the unfulfilled lives, patriarchal struggles, emasculation, lack of communication between married couples, women’s victimization. Shortly, “Vavien” tells “a dirty story”, as the Taylan Brothers said in an interview for the prestigious Turkish movie magazine “Altyazı”. However, it does so exhibiting all the characteristics of a good black comedy, so maybe that’s why we don’t feel that “dirty” watching the film.

In addition to its well-crafted screenplay, the beauty of the film also lies in the performances of both the leading and the supporting actors. Engin Günaydın and Binnur Kaya both played in “Avrupa Yakası” for years, one of the most popular Turkish sitcom on Turkish TV, but in “Vavien” they manage to detach themselves from their sitcom personas. In the film, Binnur Kaya’s acting is definitely first-class. In all the scenes she appears in, she grows “bigger” as an actress… especially, in the scene where she finds out that her money has been stolen. Here, the Taylan Brothers’ close-up on the actress’s eyes is very telling: she needs no words.

What is also good about the film is its dream-like quality in the second part. Sevilay’s “comeback” feels both real and unreal. Her comeback may only exist in Celal’s mind.

Just a suggestion

I would like my readers to watch the last scene of the film where we see Celal and his family in the car carefully. Please pause the film there for a while and look at the shot as if it is a family photo. What does this photo tell you? What is hidden behind the happiness in the photo?

And final remarks

More things can be written about the film, but we believe the way the National Jury of the 29th İstanbul Film Festival described it while presenting the FIPRESCI Prize prevents any further coment: “… an [extremely] enjoyable and unpredictable, well-acted dark comedy from the heartland of Anatolia that links elements of popular comedy with a witty and intelligent screenplay.”

What is “black comedy”?

In “Film: An Introduction”, William H. Phillips defines black comedy as “a style used in some narratives since WW II that shows the humorous possibilities in subjects previously considered off-limits to comedy, such as warfare, murder, death, and dying” (p.563).Phillips also writes that black comedies are often satiric.

An Interview with Engin Günaydın

The Mystery of “Vavien”

Engin Günaydın, Vavien’s Celal, is the creator of this beautiful screenplay. Günaydın, who became very popular with his earlier TV persona Burhan Altıntop in the famous sitcom “Avrupa Yakası”, rises not only as a successful actor but also as a talented screenwriter. Günaydın has kindly accepted my request for an interview for the blog readers:

Ali Nihat Eken: What inspired you to write “Vavien”?

Engin Günaydın: Like the characters in the film’s picnic sequence, we used to go for picnics as a family. The nature was so beautiful. But with the arrival of the sunset, the sense of beauty would soon be overcome by fear. On the way back home we had to go past very dangerous cliffs and could not help talking about them; who could find us if we fell off the cliff?… “Nobody could find you if I pushed you out there”, my brother would make jokes to his wife… “Vavien” is in fact a film of this joke.

Ali Nihat Eken: How did you come up with the “Vavien” metaphor?

Engin Günaydın: “Vavien” means a two-way light switch system, and wiring up the circuit is not that easy. I am still no good at it although we [Günaydın’s brother has an electrician’s shop in Erbaa, where “Vavien” takes place] had done it many times. One day I was examining a diagram showing the two-way switching arrangement. All of a sudden, it seeemed to me what the diagram reflected was “life” itself. My mind could be switched on from one end, and switched off from another end, just like a two-way light switch. Light and darkness. All I experienced in life would fall into a dark sphere. I reflected on how I could apply this concept to the whole film, and I realized later it was not difficult at all; light would soon turn into darkness or the darkness would all of a sudden turn into light.

Eken: How do you know small townspeople so well? The film depicted them so well.

Günaydın: I spent my childhood among handicraftsmen. My family were among them too. In my hometown, everyone knew each other well. People would talk about anything with no constraints. Life in a small town is simple and ordinary; in “Vavien”, I tried to search for an answer to the question of what would happen if serious, big issues were tackled through the depictions of ordinary small townspeople?

Eken: In what way(s) do you think “Vavien” has contributed to Turkish cinema?

Engin Günaydın: “Vavien” has become a film which reminds us once again that our local characters are able to demonstrate universality… Instead of creating a copy-cat cinema in terms of story and plot, we wanted to show how important our own stories are indeed. All this, we believed, would help Turkish cinema go back to its roots and help strengthen its place.

Eken: Even the “Vavien” metaphor on its own is able to tell us about ourselves. And the happy family picture at the end… How are we going to deal with what is beneath our “societal skin”?

Günaydın: Well, we will stop lying first. Chasing after the truth is the best thing we can do for humanity. Cinema should be honest. The reason why people love cinema is that they see cinema as their confidant. Cinema should keep being their confidant; it should keep telling them the truth and sharing their loneliness.

Eken: Your screenplay demonstrates a perspective supportive of women. Drawing on your personal history, can you elaborate on this?

Günaydın: I love my mum; she is my creator. That’s why she has a sacred part. If I were to kneel down in front of a person, I’d rather that be my mother. I consider women as the creators of the humankind. If they feel sad, humanity would also feel sad, I believe.

Note 1: The “Vavien” DVD has English subtitles.
Note 2: “Vavien” means a two-way light switch.


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