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European viewers of a certain generation will instantly recognize at least two intertexts in NADIDE HAYAT (THE LIFE OF NADIDE) - the Willy Russell double bill of EDUCATING RITA (1983) and SHIRLEY VALENTINE (1989). In Çağan Irmak's retelling of the story, widowed grandmother Nadide (Demet Akbağ) returns to complete her education at İstanbul University after a thirty year hiatus. After some initial teething troubles, she goes off on a research trip with some other learners and their professor (Sevil Aki) to the southeast coast. There she encounters her Costas figure, the captain (Yetkin Dikinçiler) and falls in love on the boat.
The tale undulates through familiar territory: Nadide is not accepted by the learners on account of her age, but eventually wins them over by diving with them and saving a sea-turtle. The fact that she nearly dies as a result only increases her reputation. Her family are skeptical about the whole idea of Nadide's education; it's just not done for an older woman to return to university. Once she obtains her diploma and subsequently opens a restaurant, they are quite happy to visit it. The captain is now the cook, while Nadide is the accountant.
Stylistically speaking NADIDE HAYAT is very flatly filmed in a series of shot/reverse sequences reminiscent of Turkish soap operas. The script is extremely wordy - at one point one of the learners criticizes Nadide for talking too much, and we tend to empathize with that view.
Thematically speaking the film includes stylistic devices characteristic of the director's earlier work, such as the use of animation sequences to denote Nadide's thoughts at any particular moment, and an apparently incongruous beginning that is only really explained towards the end of the film. There are lashings of sentimentality, especially when it comes to portraying Nadide as a woman more sinned against than sinning. The topic of education and the older person is an interesting one, especially in cultures where it is not really accepted (there are few mature learners in Turkish universities), but Irmak tends to shy away from analysis in favor of the cheap joke.
There is more material designed to appeal to Seventies nostalgics, recalling Irmak's earlier films, as one of the learners entertains everyone on the beach during a party. Through such techniques the director recreates a simpler world, one where love and hate are clearly distinguished, that seems so much more attractive than the cynical present-day society. The song provides a pretext for the film's most radical thematic device, in which one of the female learners goes off with a girlfriend, suggesting that all forms of sexuality should be permissible.
While the film shows how important it is for individuals to learn to come to terms with themselves and their inner promptings, despite the objections of others (especially their loved ones), we still feel that Irmak has spent too much time on sententious dialogue at the expense of thematc exploration. As such, NADIDE HAYAT represents something of a missed opportunity.
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