A Painful Film, But Not Anti-Turkish

The new film by the Italian directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film deals with the Armenian genocide. Panagiotis Kouparanis watched the film and talked to the filmmakers

​​The Ottoman Empire in the year 1915. In a dull provincial town somewhere in Anatolia, Turks, Greeks and Armenians are celebrating together in the house of the wealthy Armenian Avakian family. The mood is happy and relaxed.

Even more: the daughter of the house is in love with a young Turkish officer who worships the ground she walks on, and her father has a respectful and friendly relationship with the Turkish military governor.

Minutes later, the scene is radically changed. The Armenians shown on screen become victims, and the Turks become perpetrators. But the important thing is – not all of them.

The horror starts with minor gestures, intensifying exponentially. It starts when the family’s servants refuse to unload a piano from a truck, claiming they are too tired.

The very next day, a Turkish soldier tips a bowl of soup over the elaborately laid table. In the next scene a Turkish officer cuts off the head of the astonished father, throwing it into the lap of his wife, who can only utter a silent scream in the face of this awful horror.

Not a documentary

Although all the incidents are documented, Paolo Taviani emphasises that the brothers did not make a documentary:

Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (photo: Berlinale)
The directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani

​​"We’re filmmakers, not historians. That’s why we don’t make statements on the question of whether it was genocide or a massacre. Our film takes real life as its basis and adds imagination and fantasy, as every feature film does."

The film is based on the novel "Skylark Farm" by the Italian literature professor Antonia Arslan, which describes her own family’s history.

For Vittorio Taviani, it is important for the film to be shown in Turkey. "We know that this film will be a very painful experience, just like the neorealist films in Italy after the war, when we saw how Italian fascism brutally tortured and killed Italians and Jews. In Germany, on the other hand, it’s not easy to watch films about the Nazi era. But one has to take that first step sooner or later," says the director. Like his brother, Vittorio is in favour of Turkey joining the EU.

Guarded reaction

The Turkish reaction at the Berlin Film Festival was guarded. Atilla Dorsay for example, a renowned Turkish film critic, mainly criticised formal elements of the film, as did most German critics.

He finds the film balanced. It shows the good Turks too, he comments, who were against the brutal killings and tried to help the Armenians.

"In that sense it is not an anti-Turkish film, it maintains a balance," says Dorsay. "But it’s not a good film, because it isn’t always convincing. And with the exception of a few scenes, it is very forgettable. As a Turk, though, I say that this kind of film has to be made."

Panagiotis Kouparanis

© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire


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