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Sentimental Portrait of Life in a Turkish High School
From the novel by Muzaffer İzgü, ÖĞRETMEN (Teacher) is a sentimental tale of a dedicated pedagogue (Kemal Sunal) who travels from a village school to İstanbul to take up a new post with fifth-graders. The move is not an easy one - although accompanied by his family, he suffers from grinding poverty. He has a lengthy commute from the suburbs to his school, involving one dolmuş journey plus three bus journeys; on several occasions he turns up late, including his first day. When he returns home, he is usually so tired that he cannot look after his family. Inevitably he suffers; he wears out his shoes and hurts his leg.
The only way he can survive is to take up street-selling. This is a risky occupation, as he has to watch out for the police, who will invariably arrest him for illegal hawking. He ducks and dives; for the most part he is successful, but there are occasions when he suffers as a result. On one occasion while selling simit (Turkish bread sticks), he falls down a hole in the ground and injures his leg. Inevitably he finds it difficult to reconcile the two sides to his life - the street-seller and the teacher - which affects his future life.
The story of ÖĞRETMEN may seem familiar, but Kartal Tibet's film offers a fascinating series of snapshots about the Turkish educational system; its insistence on order and discipline, with learners having to repeat what they have learned in class, while conforming to a rigid set of rules that limit creativity. Sunal's Hüsnü (the teacher) challenges those rules and earns the learners' respect as a result. When they learn of his grinding poverty, they arrange for a surprise to be given to him on Öğretmenler Günü (Teacher's Day). Hüsnü is touched as a result.
Inevitably Hüsnü comes into conflict with the bureaucracy at his school - one of the flash-points involves a stray dog. For the most part he can deal with such conflicts, but in the end the need to conform to a rigid set of rules affects him.
Normally associated with comedy films, Kemal Sunal gives an affecting performance as Hüsnü, alternately serious yet charming in front of the learners. He never seems to lose his temper with them, which is something to be admired.
The world of İstanbul might have significantly changed since this film appeared in 1988, but the educational atmosphere has hardly altered. Life in today's high schools is as difficult for today's educators as it was for Hüsnü. All we can do is to admire him for his determination to adhere to his humanist ideals.
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