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At first glance, UNUTMA BENI ISTANBUL would seem to be drawing on several of the familiar tropes - both visual and literary - that are used to describe Istanbul's uniqueness: the winding streets, the little shops, the boats traveling across the Bosphorus, the tea-houses packed with inhabitants watching the world go by. It is only when we look at the identities of the filmmakers responsible for the seven short films that comprise this work that we understand its true political significance. They are Serbian, Greek, Hebrew, and Bosnian; and they look to Istanbul as a way of addressing their own particular conflicts, both ancient and modern: the Bosnian-Serb War, Greek-Turkish issues, the Arab-Israeli territorial and ethnic dispute. For them Istanbul provides a melting-pot of cultures and identities that might not help them to resolve their particular conflicts, but at least helps them to address the issues involved. Its particular history of tolerance and cultural pluralism, dating back centuries, provides a model example that other cultures might do well to follow. Inevitably there are some films within this portmanteau that are better than others: I especially liked OTELO, a short piece about an actress learning the true significance of Shakespeare's play by rehearsing with a Turkish barista. But perhaps the true significance of this film lies in the way filmmakers and other creative personnel in countries around Turkey (many of whom were in the old Ottoman Empire) have collaborated with one another to produce a brave and ultimately enlightening piece of work.
Perhaps one has got to have that kind of special relationship to this unique city to really be touched by this film, yet i would really like to ask everyone to watch it and let himself be drifted away by the aura it sprays from the screen. Istanbul of the Turks, the historical Konstantinopolis of the Greeks, the beloved Polis (again a Greek word) of the Armenians, is a city deep in the heart of not only the above mentioned folks, but also a city that almost all the peoples of the Balcans are very much attached to. For the Greeks it's the cradle of their national rebirth, for the Turks the cradle of their own ethic civilization, for the Armenians the place where they lived in hundreds of thousands and the city where their ethnic cleansing was ordered from, for the Jews the city which gave them shelter in the dark medieval times and hosted a great prosperous community of theirs, for other ethic groups -Slavs, Arabs, Kurds- the just till one century plus few years ago, capital city of the country they lived in -The Ottoman empire-... All these nations have a lot to remember about their good life there and the cruel way this life had to be ended after the collapse of the Ottomans, just a century ago. The -historic and sentimental - background of the stories it tells give an extra power to this film. The memories it brings, even though it doesn't in all cases directly refer to the above mentioned historic and sentimental background, are inevitably for the viewer very much part of it. Especially for the viewer who knows, the viewer who consciously or subconsciously takes part either to Istanbul/Konstantinopolis/Polis's history or just to the "history" of other parts of the area. The Greek and Armenian pogrom, the events in Palestine, the war in the former Yougoslavia. Yet, if one just let himself free to feel the stories of the film itself, he may easily join this city's powerful spirit, even if he does not belong to persons which are personally or ethnically attached to Istanbul's past. And can really be touched and moved. All the stories are very well-done, all the film is. Yet, if i have to point one as the most sentimentally powerful one, that would be the story of the woman, who "sees" in a young Turk's face, her lost in the Yugoslavian war son. This is really heartbreaking and made me bitterly cry. If you have read all this, you do know why you must see this really elegiac, excellent, tender, and yet amazingly realistic - as much as documentaries are- film!
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