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Mertkan has a simple life in Istanbul: 'working' as an office-boy in his dad's construction company, hanging out with his male friends in malls and discos, cruising with his dad's 4-wheel drive at night. There is no urgency for him to find a meaning to this emptiness. When he meets Gul, a Kurdish girl from Eastern Turkey, putting herself through university by working as a waitress, Mertkan has a chance to change the futility of his life. But his father opposes his connection with 'those people who only want to divide our country' and reminds Mertkan that 'we are all Turkish and we are all Muslims'. Insidiously Mertkan bows to the social values of the 'Majority' when faced with a choice, and becomes the 'proper man' his dad wanted him to be. Written by
Seren Yüce is a young Turkish director who deserves credit for dealing with the situation of the most ordinary and unglamorous of characters. Mertkan (Bartu Küçükçağlayan) is a paunchy, unambitious, bored 21-year-old who lives with his mother Nazan (Nihal G. Koldas) and father Kemal (Settar Tanriogen). His father is the macho, aggressive owner of a construction company, for whom Mertkan is little more than an errand boy. His older brother is married and lives on his own and is therefore, in Mertkan's eyes, free. Mertkan is in thrall to his dad. His mother is disappointed in him and her husband, whom she calls "insensitive." We see in an opening sequence that Mertkan as a young boy was unthinkingly abusive to their housemaid, and even then he was psychologically bullied by his tyrannical father. The family's life isn't luxurious, but they don't suffer either, and when there's a problem, dad's money and influence can normally fix it. Mertkan drives a late-model SUV. He hangs out with pals, all with gelled hair, whose idea of a good time is to drink tea in the mall, scarf hamburgers, or drive around quaffing beer.
Unfortunately the film seems as unmotivated and listless as its protagonist, and while it has realistic and occasionally humorous moments, it utterly lacks flair or the ability to make its scenes pop.
Into Mertkan's demeaning, dull and senseless existence as an homme moyen sensuel, spineless version, comes Gül (Esme Madra), a young, slim, darkly pretty Kurdish woman (though the word "Kurdish" is never spoken) who works in the fast-food joint where Mertkan bolts hamburgers to assuage his humiliations from his father. She begins to show interest in Mertkan and since he has nothing better to do, he goes along. If he's not a virgin at least he may not have had sex for free before, with kissing. This seems as much as is going to happen to stir things up, and writer-director Yüce's main point seems to be highlighting the ways in which bourgeois prejudices plug into the Turkish-Kurdish split. The prejudices are shared by Merkan's mall rat pal Ersan (Ilhan Hacifazlioglu), who refers to Gül as a "gypsy," which is either slang for "slut" or a Turkish code word for "Kurd." In fact these subtleties are hard to judge by an outsider, and a Turkish viewer of the film has questioned the casting of Gül saying the actress speaks Turkish with too perfect an Istanbul accent to have come not so long ago from Van, as designated in the story. Given the fact that she's studying sociology at a good university, the viewer also questioned Gül's telling Mertkan her greatest dream (he can think of none himself) is to find a handsome man and marry him.
This seems not so surprising: Gül is away from her family, and short on money. The fast-food job is necessary to pay for school and her digs are humble and shared. Gül escaped from a suffocating, traditional home life and she needs some security. She's not unaware that Mertkan has money in his pocket. Marriage could indeed be high on her list of priorities, even though it means risking entrapment in a situation that will not allow her to use her education to full advantage.
After Martkan brings Gül home for dinner (which at least he has the courage to do), Kemal very quickly tells him to dump her. People from Van are communists, he says, and this woman represents the people who want to break up the country. Gül encourages Mertkan to become an architect, but Kemel wants him to serve in the army and to hell with education. This is Mertkan's chance to show some cojones. But will he? Unfortunately Yüce has no excitement up his sleeve, though from scene to scene he keeps it realistic, and sometimes slightly funny.
Yüce has been assistant director on films like Akin's Edge of Heaven, but Akin's brilliance and ambition have not worn off on him. However, the casting is good. Despite his schlubby appearance and lack of energy, as Mertkan Bartu Küçükçağlayan manages to be somebody you can identify with, and the other three principals are quite real. Yüce just needed to write a script that made something more telling happen. Majority doesn't make sufficient dramatic use of its issues and conflicts. But the director still deserves credit for looking closely at ordinariness, the life of the "majority."
Yüce's first feature, Majority/Çoğunluk won a number of awards in Turkey and the Lion of the Future prize at Venice. It was also shown at Thessaloniki and Rotterdam. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, the series jointly presented by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York from March 22 through April 3, 2011.
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