11 Jul

“Bridge-on-that-(are)-ones” would be the name of this film if you constructed a literal calque in English from the Turkish word order.  We used to play a game like that in grad school — the Turks and the rest of us poor schmucks who were trying to learn Turkish — would play at having whole conversations in an English constructed on the fascinating syntactic structure of Turkic languages.  “Sent-me-by book you-to yet came, huh?” if I remember correctly;  “huh?” was what we used to serve as the Turkish interrogative particle “mi?” — like the Japanese “-ka” — because it was the best we could come up with.  It was pretty silly but a lot of fun.  And when I was teaching ESL, one thing every Turkish student of mine learned from me when he asked an Asian student whether Korean or Japanese was more similar to Chinese was that Korean and Japanese are more grammatically similar to Turkish than either of them are to Chinese.  Their reaction was interesting.  They swallow the silly Turanianism of Turkish Republican ideology whole, but don’t seem to like being confronted by it in such bluntly real and not mythic terms.  “Wait a sec…me…and this Korean guy?”

“The Men on the Bridge” — to get back to the post here — is about three men in İstanbul who are connected only by the fact that they work on the Bosphorus Bridge, the older and southernmost span between the two sides of the city.  One is a gypsy boy who sells flowers to people stuck on the bridge’s usually horrendous traffic; he tries to find other employment but is functionally illiterate, can’t even hold down a job at a working-class lokanta, and ends up back on the bridge.  The other is a poor, exhausted dolmuş driver (group taxi — same root as dolma, “stuffed,” which gives you an idea of how comfortable they are, though the new ones are actually very nice), who’s usually stuck in the bridge’s horrendous traffic and tormented by a frankly bitchy wife, who can’t understand why he can’t make enough money to move into a bigger apartment, though she herself doesn’t work and has no skills to get a job either, who, like most of her type, is fairly useless around the house as well, and whom any self-respecting Turkish man would have long sent packing back to her mother.  The third character is a traffic cop who tries to keep the horrendous traffic moving, including by harassing the gypsy boy with the flowers and giving the dolmus driver a ticket when his wife has called him to bitch about something and won’t let him get off his cell.  Played by the only professional actor in the film (his brother is an actual traffic cop), he’s a slightly dorky but handsome kid from Kayseri, with the shy, good manners that still exist in the Turkish provinces.  He’s doing a bit of religious exploring, misses home, works out, and tries to find girls to date on-line — snotty İstanbullu chicks he meets up with who start looking at their watch when he says “Kayseri” and suddenly have to leave when he says “a village near Kayseri.”  He’s particularly proud of his Turcoman clan lineage, one of the first, he claims, to come to Anatolia, and launches into its history with one of these girls, which I wanted to hear more of; she yawns, I think.

“Köprüdekiler” is not some major work, but it’s a very Turkishly melancholy and sweet film that makes its point powerfully enough: that is, that even if all of the recent years’ hype about Booming İstanbul and Booming Turkey is real and not the product of a good American public relations firm — like one sometimes suspects — that certainly not every Turk has gotten to be a part of it.  Aslı Özge makes that point most effectively by refusing to show us even one shot of the glamorous New İstanbul that gets a major piece in the Times travel section, The New Yorker and Travel and Leisure at least once every other issue.  Even the city’s beautiful sea views are almost invisible — and this in a film about a bridge — and even the one scene shot on the Jadde, a scene that makes you want to cry, where the gypsy kid and a friend are innocently checking out CD’s on a stand outside a shop and are suddenly hustled away by security to be frisked and brutally threatened, is shot in such close frame that you see none of the street’s other activity or entertainment or crowds.  She takes an effective swipe at Turkish militarism and nationalism too while she’s at it.

The dumb psychedelic lights they’ve put on the bridge — which if you know how it dominates the City’s sea-and-landscape you must know are particularly irritating — weren’t present in the film and I wondered why.  And then I checked and found it was made in 2009.  I wondered why so many films come even to New York so late and then remembered what profit pigs and cowards American distribution companies are.  I saw it at a one time screening at MOMA last month.  But it’s worth the effort to find.  See it.  Trailers below.

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