A History of Turkish Cinema

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The End of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire (that had been created in 1299 in Anatolia and in 1453 had conquered Constantinople and changed its name to Istanbul and had expanded in the Balkans) was rapidly declining at the turn of the 20th century. Historians point at the lost war of 1683-97 (and the following Treaty of Karlowitz) as the moment when the empire started shrinking. The winning powers (notably Austria, Poland and Russia) started chipping away at the Ottoman possessions in Europe. Greece gained independence in 1832. In 1878 the Ottomans were defeated in yet another war against Russia and the result was a treaty that granted Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria some degree of independence. The military defeats were just the symptoms. The disease ran deeper into Ottoman society as well as into its multi-ethnic fabric. The "Tanzimat" reforms promulgated by the sultans since 1839 had come to an abrupt halt in 1871. The Ottoman Empire had remained relatively static for four centuries, indifferent to the scientific revolution of Galileo and Newton and largely indifferent even to the industrial revolution. Financially, the empire was broke: in 1882, unable to pay interests on its debt, the empire had to accept a foreign debt administration, in 1905 there was even a famine, and in 1908 workers went on strike.

Istanbul, a European city, was the ultimate paradox of this Islamic state: in 1885 Istanbul's population was 873 thousand, making it one of the largest cities in the world, but the Christian and Jewish quarter of Galata was much richer than any of the Muslim quarters. The Ottoman Empire had a majority of Muslims, but sizeable minorities of Greeks (13%), Armenians (5%), Jews (1%) and Slavs (4%). The Muslims were mostly Turks, but also Arabs and Kurds. Three ethnic group represented a constant thorn in its side. The Jews started emigrating in 1885 from central and eastern Europe to Ottoman Palestine, and in 1897 Jews of Palestine led by Theodor Herzl organized the first "Zionist" congress and called for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the source of all future trouble between Jewish immigrants and the native Arabs. The Armenians (a Christian population which leaned towards socialism) carried out terrorist attacks and/or staged riots in 1890, 1893, 1896 while Turkish troops and Kurdish militias massacred 250,000 Armenian Christians and 25,000 Assyrian Christians in eastern Turkey between 1894 and 1896. A bomb by Armenian revolutionaries narrowly missed the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid II in 1905. In 1909 Muslim mobs massacred 20,000 Armenian Christians in Adana province. Thirdly, there was still trouble with the Greeks because most Greeks still lived outside the independent nation of Greece.

On top of the ethnic trouble with Jews, Armenians and Greeks, there was also the internal struggle of the progressives who wanted to modernize the country in the face of a recalcitrant sultan. In 1889 a group of army and navy officers organized the Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress), better known as the "Jon Turkler" ("Young Turks") because they were inspired by La Giovine Italia that had led to Italian unification, and in 1905 the army officer Mustafa Kemal joined a secret anti-monarchist group called Vatan ve Hurriyet (Motherland and Liberty). In July 1908 the Young Turks forced sultan Abdulhamid II to grant a parliamentary constitution and in November the first parliamentary elections were held in the Ottoman Empire. Women were allowed to show their face in public for the first time. In April 1909 the sultan proclaimed shariia law to appease Muslim fundamentalists, and the Young Turks from Salonika led by Mahmud Shevket marched on Istanbul and deposed Abdulhamid II. A compromise was reached that retained the monarchy (with a new sultan). While all this tumult was going on inside the empire, the enemies perceived its weakness and attacked. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and the same year the island of Kriti/ Crete joined Greece. In 1911 Italy attacked the Ottoman province of Libya and by the following year it also took the Dodecanese islands. In 1912 a Balkan League of Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece declared war and the following year the Ottomans had to accept huge losses of European territory. Meanwhile, the Young Turks had staged a coup (in January 1913) and the real power now rested with the triumvirate of Ismail Enver, Ahmed Jemal and Mehmed Talat. They installed Shevket as the new grand vizier (i.e. prime minister) but he was assassinated. The triumvirate meant to accelerate the modernizing reforms but one year later had the awful idea to enter World War I on the side of Germany and Austria. During the war, starting in 1915, the regime carried out the Armenian genocide, killing more than one million Armenian Christians. It wasn't the only genocide: between 1915 and 1920 the Ottomans also massacred half a million Assyrian Christians, and between 1916 and 1923 the Ottomans also massacred 350 thousand Greek Pontians and 480 thousand Anatolian Greeks. And it wasn't only Christians: in August 1916 the Ottomans hanged Arab patriots in Beirut's main square. Furthermore, a famine killed half a million people in Ottoman Syria between 1915 and 1918. At the end of World War II the Ottomans had lost Cyprus, Mesopotamia, Transjordan and Palestine to Britain (including Jerusalem that for the first time since the Crusades returned under a Christian king), Lebanon and Syria to France. Istanbul was occupied and divided among British, French and Italian sectors. The only minor consolation was the Ottoman victory in the battle of Gallipoli/ Canakkale in 1916: the Ottoman troops were led by Mustafa Kemal. Greece took the opportunity to attack again and this time it succeeded in regaining control of many old Byzantine territories (hence the Ottoman massacres of Greeks). It was left to Kemal to organize (in the Anatolian village of Ankara) the armed resistance against the European occupation and the Greek aggression. Last but not least, he still had to battle the troops loyal to the sultan, still in power in Istanbul. In April 1920 Mustafa Kemal was elected president of Turkey by the parliament in Ankara and moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara. Finally in 1922 Kemal managed to repel Greece from coastal Anatolia (200 thousand ethnic Greeks fled to Greece, tens of thousands of Greeks and Armenians were massacred in Smyrna or died in the fire that destroyed the Greek and Armenian quarters) and later that year his army regained control of Istanbul (with minimal bloodshed), causing another exodus of tens of thousands of ethnic Greeks. The sultan, reduced to being a puppet of the British, fled Istanbul.

While less famous than the Russian Revolution, the anarchy and transformation of Turkey during the same period was no less staggering.

Turkey's literature was surprisingly immune to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It produced novels such as Ahmed Midhat's "Musahedat/ Observations" (1891), Recaizade Ekrem's "Araba Sevdasi/ Carriage Affair" (1898), Halide Edip Adivar's "Handan/ Family" (1912), by the rare female novelist, and Refik Halit Karay's "Memleket Hikayeleri" (1919); as well as poets such as Abdulhak Hamit (aka Hamid Tarhan), Mehmet Agah (aka Yahya Kemal Beyatli), Ahmet Hasim, and especially Nazm Hikmet, the possibly the greatest poet since Seyh Galib Dede.

In fact, the end of the Ottoman Empire helped the rise of Turkish nationalism and therefore a quest for Turkish culture. The sociologist Ziya Gokalp (born Mehmed Ziya), who had been a member since 1908 of the Committee of Union and Progress, was a major force of this movement to abandon Ottoman imperial culture (and Islam) and to modernize Turkish folk traditions according to Western canons.


Embryonic Cinema (1914-39)

Turkish cinema was virtually irrelevant until the 1950s.

A Polish Jew, Sigmund Weinberg, was hired by the sultan to be his personal photographer. Weinberg started making short movies for the sultan and, after becoming the Istanbul representative of Pathe' Film, in 1908 (after the death of the conservative sultan Abdulhamid II) opened the first public movie theater on behalf of the Pathe's brothers. In 1914 he started shooting Himmet Aganin Izdivaci/ The Marriage of Himmet Aga, adapted from a Moliere play, which would have been the country's first narrative film, but he was deported in 1917 during World War I. The film was completed in 1918 by his assistant Fuat Uzkinay who meanwhile had shot for fun a documentary, Ayastefanostaki Rus Abidesinin Yikilisi/ The Destruction of the Russian Monument in San Stefano (1914), later considered the first Turkish movie. The first movie theater owned by a Turk was the Milli Sinema in Istanbul (1914). Sedat Simavi, a leading journalist who founded several magazines and newspapers, directed early narrative films like the spy thriller Casus/ The Spy (1917). In 1922 the first private movie studio was born, built by Kemal Film, followed by Ipek Film. Only two film companies existed until 1939. Between 1923 to 1939 there was only one director in Turkey: Muhsin Ertugrul, a theater actor and director who had learned the craft in Germany and who viewed cinema mainly as a vehicle for producing versions of plays (or operettas), acted by theater actors, that could be shown anywhere. His Atesten Gomlek/ The Daughter of Smyrna (1923), an adaptation of Halide Edib Adivar's novel set during the 1919-23 war, starred women for the first time. Ertugrul was first hired by Kemal Film, but Ipek hired him to direct Turkey's first sound film, Istanbul Sokaklarinda/ On the Streets of Istanbul (1928), but the audio was dubbed in France because Ipek's studio didn't have the equipment.

Turkish cinema shared a fundamental problem with all visual arts: the reluctance of Muslim artists to depict humans. Islamic movements around the world, from the Alhambra in Spain to the Taj Mahal in India, boast wonderful geometric patterns but no depiction of humans. Throughout the Islamic world, the visual arts didn't produce artists like literature did. Theater was the only art "allowed" to depict humans because it was done with living humans. Turkish cinema originated from theater and fiction as far as storytelling went (and from shadow puppetry and Tuluat theater, Turkey's version of the "commedia dell'arte" where actors improvise around archetypical characters and situations), but couldn't take advantage also of the visual tradition the way Western cinema did. There was basically no visual culture in Turkey. Theater had a further problem: it was often a male-only activity, with male actors playing female roles (particularly in outdoor theaters), resulting in plays that looked unrealistic, deprived of the whole female dimension.

Like in other parts of the Islamic world, cinema was embraced firstly by non-Muslim minorities like Armenians, Greeks, Slavs and Jews.


Secular Turkey (1923-59)

In 1923 the Ottoman Empire officially ended: the last European occupation troops left Istanbul and Kemal (later renamed Ataturk) declared Turkey a republic. Turkey and Greece agreed to exchange population, with more than one million Greeks leaving Turkey's Anatolia and 356 thousand Turks leaving Greece. The Kurds had been agitating since 1921 for their own independence, something that would come back to haunt the new state of Turkey.

The 1924 constitution was hardly democratic: it basically sactioned the rule of Kemal's party. The constitution was amended in 1928 to make Turkey a secular (not Islamic) state. Kemal proceeded rapidly to obliterate the Ottoman past: Turkey abandoned the Islamic calendar for the Gregorian calendar used in the rest of Europe, adopted the Latin phonetic orthography in lieu of the Arabic-Persian alphabet, moved the weekly day of rest from friday (typical of the Islamic world) to sunday (as common in the Christian world), and the old cathedral-turned-mosque Hagia Sophia became simply a museum. Turkey also granted women the right to coeducation, banned the Islamic veil for women from public places, and in 1935 granted women the right to vote and to be elected. Turkey also made friends with the old Balkan enemies (a friendship treaty of 1934) and with the eastern neighbors (the 1937 "Saadabad Pact" with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan). Meanwhile, Kemal's government launched a plan of rapid industrialization not unlike the ones adopted in the Soviet Union. When Kemal/Ataturk died in 1938, replaced by his former prime minister Ismet Inonu, Turkey was a very different place, a friend of Western Europe. Originally neutral in World War II, Turkey entered the war on the side of the Western powers at the very last minute.

In 1946 an opposition party was allowed to form, Celal Bayar's Demokrat Parti (Democratic Party), and in 1950 Turkey became the first Islamic country ever to hold democratic elections: they were won by the opposition Demokrat Parti (Democratic Party) and Celal Bayar then succeeded Inonu as president, ending 27 years of single-party rule of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi or CHP (Republican People's Party) founded by Kemal in 1923. The new government launched a program of privatization to liberalize the economy, moving away from Kemal's state-centered economy. In 1952 Turkey joined NATO, the only Islamic country in the otherwise Christian alliance, and in 1955 Turkey signed the "Baghdad Pact" with Iraq, Pakistan, Iran and Britain to keep the Soviet Union out of the region. The reconstruction and modernization of the infrastructure, partially funded by the USA with the Marshall Plan and with military investment, had a curious side-effect: the 1950s witnessed a wave of migration from rural areas to the cities. In the following decade the wave of migration extended abroad, with tens of thousands moving to Germany in search of a better life. A crushing economic crisis led to a military coup in 1960. The military regime launched both economic reforms and education reforms. The Democratic Party had been banned, but in 1961 former members of that party, led by Suleyman Demirel, founded the right-wing Adalet Partisi (Justice Party), which rose to power when the military allowed new elections in 1965.

The westernizing spirit of the era went so far that in 1933 Ottoman classical music was banned from national radio broadcasts while Western classical music and Western popular music (waltzes and polkas) flooded the airwaves. Gokalp (dead since 1924) was still a a major influence in trying to harmonize Turkish traditions and Western modernity. For example, the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, who had incorporate Hungarian folk songs into Western classical music, was viewed as a role model. In October 1936 Bartok (who in 1932 had attended the Congress of Arab Music at Cairo, recording both Islamic "Dhirk" ceremonies and a Coptic mass) visited Turkey, gave three lectures in Ankara (the first in French, the second in German and the third in Hungarian) and toured Anatolia to study folk songs, accompanied by local scholars.

The literature of republican Turkey was no less vibrant than before, with novels such as Yaqub Kadri Karaosmanoglu's "Yaban/ Stranger" (1932), Sabahattin Ali's "Kurk Mantolu Madonna/ Madonna in a Fur Coat" (1943) Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar's "Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitusu/ The Time Regulation Institute" (1954), Yashar Kemal's "Ince Memed/ Memed My Hawk" (1955), Onat Kutlar's "Ishak/ Isaac" (1959), and Kemal Tahir's "Devlet Ana/ Mother State" (1967); and poets such as Fazil Husnu Daglarca, Orhan Veli Kanik, Ilhan Berk, Tarik Bugra, Attila Ilhan (also a novelist), Ece Ayhan Caglar, and playwrights such as Haldun Taner.


The Adolescence of Turkish Cinema (1950s)

Until the 1940s Turkish cinema remained subordinate to theater: both filmmakers and actors saw cinema as a secondary business while mainly working in theater. In 1939 Halil Kamil founded a new film production company, Ha-Ka Film, specialized in dubbing foreign films, and introduced a new director, and one who was not coming from theater, Faruk Kenc, whose Tas Parcasi/ The Rock (1939), adapted from Resat Nuri Guntekin's play, depicted an ordinary middle-class Muslim family, quite a departure from Muhsin Ertugrul's themes, and whose Yilmaz Ali (1940), adapted from Vala Nureddin, pioneered detective movies in Turkey.

Meanwhile, Necip Erses, a filmmaker who had studied and worked in Germany for ten years, had become since 1940 the main distributor of German films, chosen by Germany to protect its market share of operettas and melodramas from the expansion of Hollywood. In 1943 Erses set up a studio to dub German movies into Turkish. Faruk Kenc used that studio to make the sound movie Dertli Pinar/ Troubled Spring (1943) on the cheap: Kenc filmed silently and later added the sound. This film pioneered a cheaper way to make "talkies" (without actually talking), which allowed Turkish filmmakers to make sound films without expensive equipment. Another big advantage of "dubbing" was that the director could employ inexperienced actors instead of the expensive professional stage actors. The dubbing method lowered the financial threshold to open a production company. In 1944 Kenc started his own company, Istanbul Film, and made Gunahsizlar/ The Innocents (1944) with young unknown actors.

During the 1940s foreign movies were still much more popular than domestic movies, if nothing else because their quality was better but also because Kemal's impulse to modernize the country had generated curiosity about the customs of Western countries, in particular in the cities. It was automatic for the urban moviegoers to identify a Western cultural product as "modern", expressing desirable values. Also very popular were Egyptian movies, starting with Muhammad Karim's Dumu Al-hubb/ Tears of Love (1936), starring the Arab idol Muhammed Abdulvahab, which featured famous Arab singers, just like Egyptian records were very popular across Turkey.

Turkey's cinema lagged behind. Part of the problem lay with the Turkish filmmakers themselves, who insisted on stories that didn't resonate with ordinary Turks. Everything changed in 1948. Turkey had produced a total of 60 films until 1945. Production resumed rapidly at the end of World War II and accelerated after two events of 1948: the Marshall Plan enacted by the USA to rebuild Europe and a reduction of sales tax on movie tickets. The liberalization reforms of the Democratic Party following its 1950 victory added another impulse. It also helped that in 1946 the government, aiming to disentangle Turkey from Arab culture, banned Arabic-language movies, which forced Turkish companies to dub the Egyptian actors and singers with Turkish artists (which ended up making Egyptian movies even more popular in Turkey because now they were in Turkish language); and so the Turkish audience often saw the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum (aka Ummu Gulsum) but heard the no less legendary Turkish singer Muzeyyen Senar.

Yearly production increased throughout the 1950s to pass 100 and reach 200 in 1966. Film production moved to Yesilcam Street in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul (the "Turkish Hollywood"). This districts, known as Pera to the Europeans, had become the center of the night life with coffeehouses, nightclubs, musichalls, cabarets and also movie theaters. Several production companies were created, like Turker Inanoglu's Erler Film (1959). Most companies did not create their own studios: they were happy to rent real homes or to shoot outdoors. Muhsin Ertugrul didn't have a monopoly on actors anymore but he made the first color movie, Halici Kiz/ Carpet Weaver Girl (1953), processed in Germany, which was also his last film. The first color film would have been Ali Ipar's Salgin/ The Plague/ Istanbul (1954), made one year earlier in 1952, but the color processing took two years. The challenge, for Turkish filmmakers, was to compete with Hollywood imports, which were more popular (just because of Hollywood's charisma) and much more professional products.

As demand increased, Turkish cinema needed more actors. Some future stars were found through modeling contests held by magazines. This practice was started in September 1951 by the Yildiz magazine in collaboration with the Istanbul Film Company. The winners were the handsome 22-year-old Ayhan Isik (born Ayhan Isiyan) and the pretty 15-year-old Belgin Doruk. They were immediately snatched by producers. Doruk debuted in Faruk Kenc's Cakircali Mehmet Efenin Definesi/ The Treasure of Cakircali Mehmet Efendi (1952), and two years later she married Kenc (26 years older than her). Osman Seden hired director Lutfi Akad to make a movie that paired Isik and Doruk: Olduren Sehir/ Murderous City (1953). On the other hand, comedies still depended on famous comedians like Ismail Dumbullu, heir of the Tuluat tradition and already popular in theater and on the radio, who debuted in cinema in Sadan Kamil's Dumbullu Macera Pesinde/ Dumbullu in Search of Adventure (1948).

The first auteur of Turkish cinema was Lutfi Akad, whose first film, Vurun Kahpeye/ Strike the Whore (1949), produced by Hurrem Erman, an adaptation of Halide Edib Adivar's novel, turned actress Sezer Sezin into a star (the story of a young schoolteacher fighting superstitions in a traditional village, a story that evoked the modernizing mood of the time). The thriller Kanun Namina/ In the Name of the Law (1952), scripted and produced by Osman Seden, based on a real event, is the film that turned Ayhan Isik into a star, breaking with the tradition that only professional theater actors could become movie actors. Akad directed both the rural drama Beyaz Mendil/ White Handkerchief (1955), based on a story by Yasar Kemal, and the urban drama Tricycle (1961), from Orhan Kemal's novel, the story of a broken family, starring both Isik and Sezin.

Kurdish director Atif Yilmaz was another talent discovered by Hurrem Erman, who produced most of his best films: Hickirik/ Hiccup (1953), an adaptation of female writer Kerime Nadir's 1936 novel that was centered on a woman; Ala Geyik/ Fallow Deer (1959), starring Yilmaz Guney at the beginning of his acting career; and Suclu/ Guilty One (1960), adapted from Orhan Kemal's 1957 novel. Yilmaz was notable for focusing on stories of women, like in Daglari Bekleyen Kiz/ The Girl Who Watched the Mountain (1955), starring Sezin, and Kumpanya/ The Company (1958), and later in Ah Guzel Istanbul/ Oh Beautiful Istanbul (1966). He was one of Turkey's most prolific directors.

Meanwhile, Turkey was developing its own Hollywood-esque "star system". For example, Nevzat Pesen's Samanyolu (1959) paired Belgin Doruk with another star, Goksel Arsoy, creating one of the most popular couples of Turkish cinema. Nuri Ergun's farce Cilali Ibo Casuslar Arasinda (1959) launched the comic character of Cilali Ibo, played by Feridun Karakaya, a continuation in cinema of the Tuluat tradition.


The First Golden Age (1960s)

Turkey suffered three military coups in twenty years: the one in 1960 fostered artistic freedom and led to the first "golden age" of Turkish cinema. The second one in 1971 slowed down the industry and the third one in 1980 caused a rapid decline.

Turkey's film industry grew rapidly in the 1960s, but mostly produced simple melodramas. However, a few filmmakers laid the foundations for Turkey's "nouvelle vague".

Film critic Metin Erksan (born Ismail Metin Karamanbey) rose to prominence with the blockbuster Sofor Nebahat/ Taxi Driver Nebahat (1960), scripted by poet Attila Ilhan, in which female star Sezer Sezin played a male character (a taxi driver). Then for three years he was a prolific auteur devoted to controversial social melodramas: Aci Hayat/ Bitter Life (1962), in which a woman is raped, photographed by Ali Ugur, starring Ayhan Isik and Turkan Soray (at the beginning of a career that would total more than 200 films), and with music by Fecri Ebcioglu (credited as writing the first Turkish lyrics for a foreign pop song the year before); Yilanlarin Ocu/ Revenge of the Snakes (1962), adapted from Fakir Baykurt's novel and scored by Yalcin Tura; Susuz Yaz/ Dry Summer/ Reflections (1963), adapted from Necati Cumali's 1962 novel, photographed by Ali Ugur, scored by Greek composer Manos Hacidakis, the film that launched the career of Turkish diva Hulya Kocyigit, the only Turkish film to win an international award until the 2000s; Suclular Aramizda/ Criminals Among Us (1964); Sevmek Zamani/ Time to Love (1965), a love story inspired by Sufi tales; and Kuyu/ The Hole (1968), in which a woman kills the man who kidnapped, tortured and raped her.

Atif Yilmaz's assistant Yilmaz Guney (born Yilmaz Putun) became a star playing the tough guy (the Clint Eastwood of Turkish cinema) in dozens of violent films between 1958 and 1964 despite being suspected by the authorities of being a communist (he was jailed in 1961 for more than one year).

Another one of Atif Yilmaz's assistants, Halit Refig, made Gurbet Kuslari/ Birds of Exile (1964), written by Orhan Kemal, the film that launched the career of diva Filiz Akin and that debuted actor Cuneyt Arkin (born Fahrettin Cureklibatir), and also the film that pioneered the "migration" genre in Turkish cinema (and perhaps more famous for being the first Turkish film to show a woman's breast).

Meanwhile, the producer Ozdemir Birsel specialized in big-budget star-studded productions directed by Nejat Saydam such as Kucuk Hammefendi/ Little Lady (1961), starring Isik and Doruk, Hayat Bazen Tatlidir/ Bittersweet Life (1962), starring Belgin Doruk and classical singer Zeki Muren (almost a musical and partly in color), and Nejat Saydam's Sozde Kizlar/ So-called Girls (1963), from Peyami Safa's 1923 novel set in a brothel, starring Ediz Hun and Filiz Akin.

Akad's passion for Turksih folklore is rampant in the "Anatolian trilogy", that started with Hudutlarin Kanunu/ The Law of the Borders (1966), from an original script by Yilmaz Guney that Akad revised, starring Guney himself in the male lead, shot in a documentary style by Ali Ugur and scored by Nida Tufekci, and that continued with Kizilirmak Karakoyun/ Red River Black Sheep (1967), again with Guney and Ugur, and scored by Orhan Gencebay, and concluded with Ana/ The Mother (1967), scored again by Gencebay. The choice of music was no less important than the choreography, a fact also proven by the soundtracks for minor films such as Vesikali Yarim/ My Prostitute Love (1968), from Sait Faik Abasiyanik's story "Menekseli Vadi" (1948), starring Turkan Soray and scored by Metin Bukey (who the previous year had composed the hit song "Samanyolu/ Milky Way" for singer Berkant).

Hulki Saner's comedies Helal Olsun Ali Abi (1963) and Turist Omer (1964) launched the comic character of Turist Omer, a rural simpleton played by Sadri Alisik, which appears in several sequels (even traveling into outer space in the fashion of the television series Star Trek).

Other notable films before the 1971 coup include: Memduh Un's Olum Pesimizde/ Death is after us (1960), starring Ayhan Isik and Fatma Girik (the film that launched her); Ertem Egilmez's Surtuk/ Slut (1965), an adaptation of Mahmut Yesari's novel (in turn a variation on Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion"), starring Turkan Soray and Cuneyt Arkin; Osman Seden's Calikusu/ Wren (1966), from Resat Nuri Guntekin's 1922 novel, starring Turkan Soray; Sureyya Duru's Malkocoglu (1966), first of a series of historical movies; Sureyya Duru's Kader/ Destiny (1968), starring both Akin and Arkin; Turker Inanoglu's Yumurcak (1969), scripted by Safa Onal, the first in a series of movies, starring Kartal Tibet and Filiz Akin (Inanoglu's wife), with music by Metin Bukey and cinematography by Cetin Gurtop; Muzaffer Arslan's Ankara Ekspresi/ Ankara Express (1970), adapted from Esat Mahmut Karakurt's novel, photographed by Cengiz Tacer and starring Filiz Akin; Cetin Inanc's Zehir Hafiye/ The Bright Detective (1971), typical of the gangster movies built around actor Yilmaz Koksal; etc.

The four divas of Yesilcam during the 1960s were: Filiz Akin, Turkan Soray, Hulya Kocyigit and Fatma Girik (frequently paired with Cuneyt Arkin).

In no other country did Islamic values and Western values clash as openly as in Kemal's Turkey. Kemal had launched a positivist-style program of social engineering, aiming at transforming Turkey from a pillar of Islamic civilization into a peer of the Western nations. In his vision there was no place for the Islamic religion nor for ancient traditions. The urban populations generally followed the Kemalists, particularly in Istanbul (a European city), but the rural areas, particularly in Anatolia, remained largely under the influence of Islam. As the end of World War II accelerated Turkey's political integration with the West, the country experienced a veritable cultural dichotomy which mirrored the dual reality of urban Turkey and rural Turkey. This social tension transferred into a political dichotomy, with the political left generally in favor of rapid westernization and the political right generally defending traditional Islamic values. On one hand there was the state-sanctioned movement towards modernity, urbanization, science, entertainment, partying, "decadence" and even Western classical music, and on the other hand there was tradition, rural life, religion, devotion, Quranic education, mosque life, and traditional folk music. Turkey aimed to become a bridge between East and West, but before that it had to build a bridge within its own conservative/religious and progressive/secular societies. When in 1967 president Cevdet Sunay and prime minister Suleyman Demirel allowed the visiting Catholic pope Paul VI to pray in Hagia Sophia, many intellectuals and ordinary people felt offended. Often the dichotomy ran along classes, with the poor more likely to be traditional and the rich more likely to be westernized. By the mid-1960s the Milli Turk Tarikat Birligi or MTTB (National Turkish Students Union), one of the youth organizations founded in 1948, had drifted towards right-wing conservative politics. Sometimes the dichotomy also divided Turkish society along genders, with women generally more traditional and men more progressive. When Kemal pushed for dress reform, men had little problem replacing turbans and baggy trousers with western dressing codes, but for many women it was traumatic to renounce the Islamic veil, that was banned in public places including schools. Ironically, this edict meant to "liberate" women sometimes created discrimination against women: Islamist men could attend school dressed as they liked, while women were banned from entering schools if wearing the veil. By the late 1960s an anti-feminist movement (or Islamist feminism) took hold among women themselves, a movement fighting for their right to religious expression in public places. Novels and films of the 1960s often dealt with the contrast between tradition and modernity, for example in romantic melodramas about couples from opposing ends of the social spectrum. A whole new genre of "hidayet romanlari" (“salvation novels”) emerged that pitted Islamic traditions against Western modernity.


The Time of Chaos (1970s)

Student riots followed the pattern of Western Europe. In 1965 leftist students organized the Fikir Kulupleri Federasyonu (Federation of Debate Clubs) and in 1968 student riots spread from the Law School of Istanbul University (Deniz Gezmis and others) to every corner of the country. In 1969 this organization morphed into the more radicalized Devrimci Genclik (Revolutionary Youth) or DEV-GENC, and in 1971 student riots (that previously had been confined to students fighting students) escalated into terrorist attacks by two Marxist-Leninist offshoots named Turkiye Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephes or THKP-C (Turkish People's Liberation Party-Front) and Turkiye Halk Kurtulus Ordusu or THKO (Turkish People's Liberation Army), the latter co-founded by Gezmis after training with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Jordan. Mahir Cayan, the architect of THKP-C guerrilla warfare, Huseyn Inan, the real ideologue of the THKO, were inspired by Chinese leader Mao, by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. The movement now had acquired a strong anti-USA anti-imperialist anti-NATO ideology.

At the other end of the political spectrum, in 1970 Necmettin Erbakan, the brain behind the movement Milli Gorus (National Vision), founded Turkey's first Islamist party, the Milli Nizam Partisi (National Order Party).

At the end of 1971 the military seized power again, and for two years Turkey was ruled by a brutal junta that arrested and tortured thousands of people (in 1972 Cayan was killed by the army while Gezmis and Inan were sentenced to death and hanged).

The Milli Nizam Partisi (National Order Party) was forced to disband, but, undeterred, in 1972 Necmettin Erbakan started another right-wing party, the Milli Selamet Partisi (National Salvation Party).

In 1974 Turkey decided to invade the Turkish half of independent Cyprus following a Greek coup in Cyprus. Bulent Ecevit's left-wing Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People's Party) won elections in 1973 and 1977 but could govern only for a few months. Since 1960 all the presidents of Turkey had been former army or navy officers.

After the intellectual orgies of the late 1960s, poets of the period of chaos included: Bahaettin Karakoc, Gulten Akin, Hilmi Yavuz, and Ataol Behramoglu. Two great novelists of the 1970s were women: Sevgi Soysal, with novels such as "Yurumek/ To Walk" (1970), "Safak/ Dawn" (1975) and "Yenisehirde Bir Ogle Vakti/ Noon-Time in Yenisehir" (1974), and Adalet Agaoglu, with novels such as "Dar Zamanlar/ Tight Times" (1973), "Bir Dugun Gecesi/ A Wedding Night" (1979) and "Hayr/ No" (1987). Other notable novels of the era include Oguz Atay's "Tutunamayanlar/ Losers" (1972) and Mustafa Necati Sepetcioglu's "Daradacy/ The Gallows" (1979).

After the coup of 1971 film production was only marginally reduced. The prolific screenwriter Safa Onal directed Aglayan Melek/ Weeping Angel (1971), an adaptation of Sait Faik Abasiyanik's play "Medari Maiset Motoru", starring Turkan Soray. In turn, Soray directed Donus (1972), written by Safa Onal, which launched the career of another future star, Kadir Inanir. Halit Refig created a female archetype with Fatma Baci (1972), written by Onal, about a courageous Anatolian woman who feels to Istanbul. Atif Yilmaz paid tribute to miniature painting and classical Turkish music in the musical comedy Yedi Kokali Hurmuz/ Hurmuz with Seven Husbands (1971), written by Sadik Sendil and starring Turkan Soray.

The conservative movement represented by the MTTB and by Milli Gorus spilled over into Turkish cinema. Yucel Cakmakli's Birlesen Yollar/ Merging Paths (1970), starring Turkan Soray, was based on the salvation novel "Huzur Sokagi" (1969) written by Sule Yuksel Senler, an anti-feminist anti-Kemalist female intellectual who defended the right to wear the headscarf (she was jailed for eight months). Salih Diriklik organized the “Akin Grup” of young Muslim filmmakers that helped him make Genclik Koprusu/ The Bridge of Youth (1975).

Akad returned with a trilogy about internal migration and urbanization, the "Migration trilogy", produced by Hurrem Erman and photographed by Gani Turanli, stories about families moving from rural villages to the cities in search of a better life, all centered on female characters played by Hulya Kocyigit: Gelin/ The Bride (1973), with music by Yalcin Tura, Dugun/ The Wedding (1973), with music by Metin Bukey, and Diyet/ Blood Money (1974), with music by Orhan Gencebay. In each one the soundtrack is carefully composed to reflect the zeitgeist.

Remzi Jonturk, who had started out directing Guney vehicles and sequels of Sureyya Duru's Malkocoglu, penned a trilogy of political thrillers called the "Adam trilogy", all three starring Cuneyt Arkin: Yarinsiz Adam/ The Man without Tomorrow (1976), Satilmis Adam/ Sold Man (1977) and Yikilmayan Adam/ The Indestructible Man (1977).

Ertem Egilmez made comedies scripted by Sadik Sendil, like Salak Milyoner/ The Stupid Millionaire (1974), but mainly launched the comic character Inek Saban (played by comedian Kemal Sunal) with the high-school farce Hababam Sinifi/ The Chaos Class (1975), adapted from a novel by Rifat Ilgaz, and Sabanoglu Saban/ Saban Son of Saban (1977), scripted again by Sendil. Among the comedies of the 1970s the ones starring Kemal Sunal stand out, mostly directed by Ertem Egilmez's assistant Kartal Tibet and produced by Egilmez, like Tosun Pasa (1976), written by Yavuz Turgul, also starring new star Sener Sen.

Oksal Pekmezoglu launched the Turkish erotic comedy with Bes Tavuk Bir Horoz/ Five Chickens and a Rooster (1974), a remake of an Italian movie, Marco Vicario's Homo Eroticus (1971). The wave of erotic comedies, with an emphasis on nudity, lasted until the 1980 coup. In 1975 half of all movies made in Turkey were sex comedies.

Yavuz Ozkan was a notable political filmmaker who wrote and directed Maden/ The Mine (1978), starring Cuneyt Arkin, about striking miners, and the political thriller Demiryol/ Railway (1979).

The popular actor Yilmaz Guney (born Yilmaz Putun in a family of poor Kurdish peasants) became a prolific director. He borrowed the cinematic language of Italian neorealism (on-location shooting and nonprofessional actors) for the urban tragedy of Umut/ Hope (1970), Umut/ Hope (1970), in which he played not the usual tough man but a poor illiterate member of the lumpenproletariat. He was jailed in 1974 for murdering a judge. He wrote in prison Suru/ The Herd (1978), co-directed with Zeki Okten, a devastating fresco of the poverty of Anatolia, with powerless individuals crushed between feudalism and capitalism. He escaped in 1981 and fled to France. Meanwhile, he had also written Yol/ The Way (1982), directed by Serif Goren in 1980 and later edited by Guney in exile, an analysis of society after the coup (banned until 1999). His last film, Duvar/ The Wall (1983), the first film that he personally directed since 1974, about a prison riot that he personally witnessed, was an allegory for the state of Turkey under the dictatorship: a giant prison. All these films were banned in Turkey.

Turkish emigration had skyrocketed during the 1960s, particularly to Germany. Several films were devoted to Turkish migrants in Western Europe, for example Bay Okan's Otobus/ The Bus (1975) and Serif Goren's Almanya Aci Vatan/ Germany Bitter Home (1979), written by Zehra Tan and starring Hulya Kocyigit.


The 1980 Coup

In 1976 Turkey witnessed a resurgence of leftist terrorism, again originating from the universities but then spreading to the whole country. The number of terrorist organizations multiplied rapidly, some started by members of the old THKO and THKP-C, but there were also many terrorists totally unrelated to universities and also right-wing terrorists, notably the Bozkurtlar (Grey Wolves). In December 1978 the Bozkurtlar militia massacred one hundred leftists and Kurds in Kahramanmaras. In 1978 Kurdish separatists led by Abdullah Ocalan formed the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan or PKK (Kurdish Worker's Party) to fight for an independent Kurdish state in the Kurdish region of southeast Turkey. This added another dimension to the violence. Right-wing and left-wing terrorist organizations proliferated. Some of these organizations were borderline gangsters, carrying out for-profit activities like bank robberies, extortions, drug trafficking and arms smuggling. At a time of economic crisis (it was the time of hyper-inflation in Europe and the USA), being a member of these gangs was a lucrative job for the poor suburbs of the big cities. In 1978 the main leftist terrorist group was founded: the Devrimci Sol or Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left). At the peak of the violence in late 1979 and early 1980 more than 50 people were killed every month in Istanbul alone. More than five thousand people were killed between 1976 and 1980. In 1979 Suleyman Demirel's Justice Party won elections but the situation was out of control, with the country plunging into civil war. On top of the political and ethnic trouble, the Islamists started clamoring for shariha law. At the end of 1980 the army seized power again, arresting and torturing thousands of people just like a decade earlier. The leader of the coup, Ahmet Kenan Evren, an admirer of Kemal, became the new president.

After the 1980 coup the MTTB was dissolved. Those who resisted, like Huseyin Velioglu, who became the leader of the Kurdish Hezbollah, were declared enemies of the state (Velioglu was eventually killed in a police raid in 2000).

Elections were allowed again in 1983, won by a new centrist party, Turgut Ozal's Anavatan Partisi (The Motherland Party). Notably, 12 women were elected to parliament. Evren began free-market reforms to heal the economy. The only remaining terrorism was pretty much the Kurdish terrorism, i.e. Abdullah Ocalan's PKK. Suleyman Demirel reinvented himself as the leader of another centrist party, Dogru Yol Partisi or DYP (True Path Party). When in 1989 Ozal was elected president, Demirel succeeded him as prime minister (for the seventh time), and then, when Ozal died, Demirel became president. His first prime minister was Tansu Ciller, the first female prime minister of Turkey. Under pressure from the European Union, Turkey further liberalized the political system but the result was the electoral success in 1996 of an Islamist party, Necmettin Erbakan's Refah Partisi (Welfare Party). The military intervened and disqualified Necmetting for having violated the separation of religion and state. Meanwhile, PKK's bombs were killing dozens of people every year, but in 1999 elite Turkish troops captured Ocalan in Kenya. Ocalan announced that he was renoucing violence, after a 15-year war that had claimed the lives of 27,000 Kurdish rebels, thousands of turkish soldiers, hundreds of Turkish civilians and unknown numbers of Kurdish civilians.

Significant novels of the 1980s included: Tarik Dursun Kakinc's "Kursun Ata Ata Biter/ Shooting Uses Up Bullets" (1983), Latife Tekin's "Sevgili Arsiz Olum/ Dear Shameless Death" (1983), Bilge Karasu's "Gece/ Night" (1985), Mustafa Necati Sepetcioglu's "Ve Canakkale" (1989), etc. The most famous novelist at the end of the century was Orhan Pamuk, whose novels "Sessiz Ev/ Silent House" (1983), "Kara Kitap/ Black Book" (1990) and "Masumiyet Muzesi/ The Museum of Innocence" (2008) made him the most respected Turkish writer of the century.

The 1980 coup ended not only the erotic genre and the political genre: it caused the demise of Yesilcam, which was already suffering from the competition of television, and benefited Hollywood. In the 1980s, Turkish films were mainly produced for the video market, also serving the large Turkish immigrant community in Germany.

Notable films of the decade include: Erden Kira's Bereketli Topraklar Uzerinde/ On Fertile Lands (1980), Cetin Inanc's sci-fi movie Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam/ The Man who Saved the World (1982), Nesli Colgecen's Zugurt Aga (1985), Bilge Olgac's Gulusan (1985), and Omer Kavur's Anayurt Oteli/ Motherland Hotel (1987).

Atif Yilmaz continued his portraits of women with films such as Selvi Boylum Al Yazmalim/ The Girl with the Red Scarf (1977), Adi Vasfiye/ Her Name is Vasfiye (1985), in which the story of a mysterious woman is told by the men who know her, and Kadinin Adi Yok/ The Woman Has No Name (1988), the adaptation of Duygu Asena's bestselling feminist novel. He wasn't the only one. Films about modern women were popular. For example, Irfan Tozum's Cagdas Bir Kole/ A Modern Slave (1986).

Ertem Egilmez's blockbuster Arabesk (1988), his last film, written by Gani Mujde, was a parody of musical melodramas, also a parody of his own comedies of the 1970s, and also a parody of the intellectual class. It wasn't the only film making fun of the film industry. For example, Serif Goren's Amerikali/ American (1993) is built around spoofs of Hollywood blockbusters.

Omer Kavur directed surrealistic and philosophical films such as Gece Yolculugu/ Night Journey (1987), Anayurt Oteli/ Motherland Hotel (1987), from Yusuf Atulgan's novel, Gizli Yuz/ The Hidden Face (1991), a variation on the medieval legend of the quest for the Holy Grail, and Akrebin Yolculugu/ The Journey on the Hour Hand (1997).

The 1990s marked a slow rebirth of Turkish cinema via films such as: Nurettin Ozel's Garip Bir Koleksiyoncu (1991), Irfan Tozum's Cazibe Hanimin Gunduz Dusleri/ The Daydreams of Miss Attraction (1992), about a virgin spinster who goes mad, Omer Vargi's Hersey Cok Guzel Olacak/ Everything’s Gonna Be Great (1998), and Sinan Cetin's Propaganda (1999).

Zeki Demirkubuz, imprisoned during the dictatorship at the age of 17 for three years, crafted the psychological noirs Masumiyet/ Innocence (1997) and Ucuncu Sayfa/ The Third Page (1999).

Yavuz Turgul criticized the film industry in Ask Filmlerinin Unutulmaz Yonetmeni/ The Unforgettable Director of Romantic Films (1990) and the film that truly galvanized the new generation of filmmakers: Eskiya/ The Bandit (1996), a noir in which an ex-bandit who spent most of his life in jail is forced to kill again by the best friend who betrayed him.

Female director Yesim Ustaoglu made the first film since Guney's Yol devoted to the Kurdish issue, Gunese Yolculuk/ Journey to the Sun (1999), set in a slum of poor migrants, starring nonprofessional actors and photographed by Jacek Petrycki.


The 21st Century

In 2000 Turkey's parliament elected the independent Ahmet Necdet Sezer as president. Unfortunately he clashed right away with prime minister Bulent Ecevit, now the leader of the Demokratik Sol Parti (Democratic Left Party), who was very popular after the capture of Ocalan. The result was a steep economic crisis. Another crisis was indirectly opened in 2001 when Turkey's constitutional court banned the Fazilet Partisi (Virtue Party), which was basically the successor to Erbakan's Welfare Party (for the same reason of violating the secularist constitution). This Islamist party dissolved but one branch became the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AK (Justice and Development Party) under Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Istanbul's mayor since 1994). While never a member of the Welfare Party or of the Virtue Party, an influential figure of the neo-Islamic movement was the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was about to be arrested when he fled the country in 1999 for the USA. The economic crisis led to a political crisis which led to early elections in 2002 which were won by AK with support from Gulen's movement. That began the long reign of Erdogan. Turkey began an economic recovery with a growth rate among the highest in the world. There were still bombs, notably the bombs in Istanbul synagogues that killed 25 people and the bombs against western institutions that killed 58 people also in Istanbul, and in 2005 the Kurdish rebels resumed their guerrilla. When Sezer stepped down after seven years, Abdullah Gul of the AK was chosen as president but the real power rested with prime minister and AK leader Erdogan. In 2007 Istanbul saw the rise of many skyscrapers. The economy kept growing and Turkish people kept rewarding Erdogan at every election. However, Erdogan was becoming more and more religious (defending religious practices at odds with the secularist constitution), and more and more authoritarian (scores of journalists ended in jail for criticizing him). Turkey was also bombing Kurdish fighters both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq. In 2011 Turkey's top military leaders (military chief Isik Kosaner and the commanrds of army, navy and air force) resigned en masse. Further complicating things, in 2011 civil war erupted in Syria against dictator Assad: Erdogan sided with the Sunni rebels (Erdogan was a Sunni Muslim, Assad an Alawite Muslim) but the anti-Assad rebels also included Kurdish fighters. In 2013 the split between Erdogan and Gulen became public: authorities widely seen as allied with Gulen launched a corruption probe and arrested dozens of people affiliated with Erdogan's party, and the following year the police arrested people working for a newspaper and a TV station allied with Gulen. At the same time, anti-government protests were spreading throughout Turkey, organized by citizens who feared a return to Ottoman-era Islamic values. Erdogan was prime minister until 2014 when he changed the constitution to give the president more power and then became president, replacing Gul. Nonetheless, in the 2015 elections a record number of women were elected to the Turkish parliament (96), besides 3 Armenians, 2 Yazidis, 1 Syriac, 1 Roma and several Kurds and Alevis. The main problem remained the war against the Kurdish separatists, that was killing scores of people, inside and outside Kurdistan. ISIS joined the terrorist campaign, notably with an attack at the Istanbul airport that killed 44 people. Amid so much tension, in July 2016 military units led by former general Akin Ozturk tried to overthrow Erdogan. Erdogan survived, blamed the exiled Gulen and started arresting and firing thousands of perceived enemies, including dozens of journalists, university professors, police officers, public officials, and even airforce pilots. Meanwhile, Kurds and ISIS kept blowing up bombs, and Turkey kept bombing them even across the border in Iraq and Syria. Erdogan was playing all sort of dirty games, both inside and outside Turkey. When opposition politician Enis Berberoglu exposed Turkey's secret shipment of weapons to Syrian Islamists, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 2018 Turkey forced Aydin Dogan to sell all his media to a government-friendly businessman, Erdogan Demiroren, so that no major independent media remained in Turkey. But the economic boom was coming to an end, largely because of Erdogan's increasingly bizarre economic policies. The economy was already bad in 2018 and it got worse during the covid pandemic of 2020-21. Erdogan was nonetheless hailed as a hero in some quarters. First of all, he sided with the Palestinians oppressed by Israel. Secondly, he openly accused Saudi Arabia when (October 2018) a Saudi-born journalist Jamal Khashoggi working for a US newspaper was brutally tortured, killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate of Istanbul. While US president Donald Trump pretended that it was no big deal, Erdogan stood up to the powerful Saudi ruler. Turkey was also the only Islamic country who complained with China about the "reeducation camps" in Xinjiang province where tens of thousands of Muslim Uighurs were detained. In 2020 Turkey sent troops to Libya to protect the government of national accord led by prime minister Fayez al-Serraj in Tripoli from the Russian-back militia of Khalifa Hifter.

On one hand Erdogan presided on a rapid westernization of Turkey: in 2013 Turkey had opened the first sea tunnel linking two continents (the "Marmaray"), in 2021 Istanbul had 122 skyscrapers taller than 100 meters, and in 2022 it opened the longest suspension bridge in the world (the "1915 Canakkale Bridge"). On the other hand Erdogan often sounded like an Islamic fundamentalist, worse than the sultans of a century earlier: in 2020 he turned Hagia Sophia again into a mosque (after 86 years) and he called for a boycott of French goods to defend a Muslim who beheaded a French teacher.

However, the economy kept imploding. At the end of 2021 the Turkish lira had lost 44% to the dollar in one year, its worst year since 2001, and at the end of 2022 Turkey's inflation reached a record 25-year high of 85.5%. Turkey's GDP per capita had fallen to $9600, for the first time lower than Bulgaria's $12200 and lower than Russia's $12200 (the Eurozone's GPD per capita was $44600). Luckily for Erdogan, Turkey's neighbors to the south and east were all in bigger trouble: Iran under the ayatollahs, Iraq recovering from a bloody civil war, Syria devastated by its own civil war, Lebanon starving during an endless economic crisis, Armenia and Azerbaijan locked into a territorial dispute. And in 2022 a neighbor across the Black Sea plunged into another war: Ukraine was invaded by Putin's Russia.

Selim Ileri's "Solmaz Hanim Kimsesiz Okurlar Icin" (1999) was one of the big novels at the turn of the century, an era still dominated by Orhan Pamuk. In the new century a new literary star emerged: female writer Elif Shafak, with novels such as "Sehrin Aynalan/ Mirrors of the City" (1999), "Baba ve Pic/ Bastard of Istanbul" (2006), "Havva'nin Uc Kizi/ Three Daughters of Eve" (2016) and "On Dakika Otuz Sekiz Saniye/ 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World" (2018).

Turkey found a filmmaker of international stature in Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who crafted a trilogy of "provincial" films starting with Kasaba/ Small Town (1997), which follows a poor family in a small town, followed by Mayis Sikintisi/ Clouds of May (1999), and peaking with Uzak/ Distant (2002), largely silent and quasi-documentarian, mostly assembled from long shots, a poem of solitude whose silence is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni, and at the same time overflowing with metaphors. The latter is a candidate for best Turkish film of all time. The vivid photography of cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki often steals the show in the films that followed each other in a crescendo of intellectual depth: Iklimler/ Climates (2006), played by Ceylan himself and by his wife, a psychological study halfway between Ingmar Bergman and Antonioni; Uc Maymum/ Three Monkeys (2008), a hybrid of film noir, Greek tragedy, working-class melodrama, and, last but not least, Aesop-style moral fable that results in a cyclical story of moral punishment; Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da/ Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), a lengthy, slow and laconic meditation on ordinary life that mostly relies on visual clues; Kis Uykusu/ Winter Sleep (2014), another candidate for best Turkish film of all time, the sombre elegiac character study of a failed lonely aging intellectual, somewhere between Bergman and Theo Angelopulos, a film of emotional dialogues that feel like psychological autopsies of people who have wasted their lives; and Ahlat Agaci/ The Wild Pear Tree (2018) overflowinfg with metaphors and allegories, a sequence of conversation pieces that assemble like in a puzzle to provide a social fresco, a blend of Federico Fellini's Amarcord and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Uccellini e Uccellacci.

The resurgence of Yesilcam began with Yilmaz Erdogan's blockbuster Vizontele (2001), a comedy that he wrote and in which he starred. Erdogan was already a celebrity thanks to Levent Kirca's long-running television sitcom Olacak O Kadar (1988) and Erdogan's own sitcom Bir Demet Tiyatro/ A Bunch of Theater (1995) and to several plays staged by his company, including the solo "Cebimde Kelimeler/ Words in my Pocket" (1995). The sequel, Vizontele Tuuba (2004), was even more popular. Erdogan also directed and wrote Organize Isler/ Organized Job/ Magic Carpet Ride (2005), in which he played along fellow comedians Cem Yilmaz and Tolga Cevik. Cem Yilmaz, a rival comedian, imitated him with the sci-fi comedy G.O.R.A. (2004), directed by Omer Faruk Sorak, which had its own sequels, and Hokkabaz/ The Juggler/ The Magician (2006), directed by Ali Taner Baltaci. Another comedian, Tolga Cevik, rose to prominence in Semih Kaplanoglu's Herkes Kendi Evinde/ Away from Home (2001). Another comedian, Gulse Birsel, conceived and wrote the sitcom Avrupa Yakasi/ European Side (2004), produced by Sinan Cetin. One of the actors in that sitcom, Ata Demirer, wrote (and played in) Hakan Algul's blockbuster Eyyvah Eyvah (2010).

Poet and musician Onur Unlu directed the eccentric existential meditation Polis/ Police (2006) before manning the popular television sitcom Leyla ile Mecnun (2011), written by Burak Aksak.

Semih Kaplanoglu and screenwriter Orcun Koksal followed a protagonist backwards, from middle-age through adolescence to childhood, in the "Yusuf trilogy": Yumurta/ Egg (2007), Sut/ Milk (2008) and Bal/ Honey (2010), photographed by Baris Ozbicer, He wrote by himself the dystopian Bugday/ Grain (2017), and the psychological studies Baglilik Asli/ Commitment Asli (2019) and Baglilik Hasan/ Commitment Hasan (2021).

Other notable films of the 2000s were: Ulas Inac's Turev/ Derivative (2005), based on a tale by Miguel de Cervantes; Cagan Irmak's Babam ve Oglum/ My Father and My Son (2005); Reha Erdem's oneiric Bes Vakit/ Times and Winds (2006); and Abdullah Oguz's poetic Mutluluk/ Bliss (2007), adapted from the 2002 best-selling novel by Zulfu Livaneli, who also composed the soundtrack, and photographed by Mirsad Herovic.

Emin Alper wrote and directed two stylish films that blend the narrative and visual tropes of the thriller and of the western: Tepenin Ardi/ Beyond the Hill (2012), photographed by George Chiper-Lillemark, and especially Kurak Gunler/ Burning Days (2022), photographed by Christos Karamanis.

French-raised female director Deniz Gamze Erguven told a powerful story of women trapped in a prison by prejudice in a remote village in Mustang (2015), co-scripted with Alice Winocour.

Other notable films of the new century included: Tolga Ornek's Kaybedenler Kulubu/ Losers’ Club (2011); Ozan Adam's sci-fi movie Korler - Jaluziler Icin/ For Blinds - Venetian Blinds (2013); Yilmaz Erdogan's Kelebegin Ruyasi/ The Butterfly’s Dream (2013); Kaan Mujdeci's Sivas (2014); Tolga Karacelik's Sarmasik/ Ivy (2015); Ceyda Toru's Kedi (2016); Mahmut Fazil Coskun's Anons/ The Announcement (2017); etc.

In 2023 a strong earthquake killed more than 46,000 people in Turkey and Syria. Despite being reelected in 2023, Erdogan's power was dwindling and in 2024 Turkey's opposition Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi or CHP (Republican People's Party) won municipal elections in all major Turkish cities.


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See also the Best Turkish Films of All Time