An exciting father/son thriller, a rare find in Turkish cinema

Sarı Sıcak, (Yellow Heat), a Turkish thriller, has won the most awards among this year’s Turkish movies. Collectively, winning ten awards from four film festivals, the film is a rare find.

Fikret Reyhan, despite this being his first role as director, is to be congratulated for writing and directing such an emotive, balanced, and thoughtful movie. While the work of Hungarian cameraman, Marton Miklauzic, remembered for his work in “Zerre,” plays a big role in the movie’s success, one can say with authority that the Turkish film industry has found a serious master with Reyhan.

Sarı Sıcak, at its worldwide premiere at the Istanbul Film Festival,  won “Best Picture of the Year,”  “Best Cinematography, “ (Marton Miklauzic), “Best Screenplay” (Ömer Günüvar, Fikret Reyhan), and best “Male Actor” (Aytaç Uşun).

The film also won multiple awards for “Best Director,” (Fikret Reyhan), at its international premier in Moscow, at the Red Tulip Festival in Rotterdam and at the Malatya Film Festival. Also at the Malatya Festival, the movie continued to add to its awards, winning “Best Screenplay), (Fikret Reyhan), “Best Editor” and “ Best Supporting Male Actor,” (Mehmet Özgür). It’s certain that four, separate, film judging groups did not give out this many awards Sarı Sıcak in vain.

Sarı Sıcak, from the first scene to the last, is about its young hero, İbrahim, his life, emotions and his surroundings. The movie does an excellent job of not losing the plot, while deftly keeping İbrahim’s life and his surroundings in the background.

The movie’s central theme is about a young man who wants to become a truck driver, but works on his family’s farm, eking out meager living. He wants to escape home and get out from under his father’s shadow, who is a traditional, authoritarian man, one who is tied to his land, village and traditions.

İbrahim wants to get his truck drivers’ license and escape to the open roads. Unfortunately, he has no money and hasn’t been paid for the produce sold to wholesalers to pay for bills. Nor will his father, Necip Ağa, give him the few hundred liras necessary, as he doesn’t think İbrahim should be a truck driver. Who will work the farm, as they have no farm workers, his father argues.

A scene from Sarı Sıcak where İbrahim drives a tractor. / Fikret Reyhan
A scene from Sarı Sıcak where İbrahim drives a tractor. / Fikret Reyhan

It is obvious to the viewer that Ibrahim is angry from the beginning of the film and why, when he turns a turtle on its back and the way he destroys thistle bushes with a stick in his hand while walking on the side of the road. Large trucks pass by him one after the other.

There are posters of trucks hanging on the walls of his room. He hangs out with truck drivers at truck stops. He tries to earn money however he can. For Ibrahim, trucks mean freedom. Fikret Reyhan has given great care to showing the viewer these details.

Sarı Sıcak doesn’t require much speech or verbal clues to get a point across. From showing farmers fighting against, but not being able to withstand industrialisation in farming, to the sexual hunger of men living in an environment without female companionship, the movie capably visualises the writer’s objectives.

An example of such visual detail is when, one night, İbrahim comes home late.  The scene is blurry, but the viewer can hear Necip Ağa’s raised voice. İbrahim has his head bowed. Just as Necip is preparing to hit İbrahim, his wife enters the room and stops him. The camera angle shows that the film is being shot over her shoulder. The camera moves at the same time as the mother and Necip Ağa enters the frame, his hand stuck in the air when he sees his wife.

That night, İbrahim is so angry, he pulls out the young eggplants out from their roots. The next day, when a villager asks when seeing the uprooted eggplants, “Who would do such a thing,” Necip Ağa’s look, seen in profile, easily reveals the one responsible.

A scene from Sarı Sıcak where Necip Ağa is seen in the truck. / Fikret Reyhan
A scene from Sarı Sıcak where Necip Ağa is seen in the truck. / Fikret Reyhan

Fikret Reyhan obviously wanted two actors who could show the tension between a father and son. He was successful in the choice of his two male leads. Mehmet Özgür, who has showcased his talents in theatre, movies and serials, and mastery of his craft in Emin Alper’s “Tepenin Ardı” and “Abluka”  plays Necip Ağa as a stern-faced, but disciplined and principled man

Aytaç Uşun, who played in “Silsile”, “Toz Ruhu” and “İkimizin Yerine” has come into his own in Sarı Sıcak. A minor weak point in the movie is the father speaking without an accent, while the son has a discernible one.

Another jarring point is the name of the movie, which was adapted from Yaşar Kemal’s story of the same name, and filmed in Çukurova. The movie was not filmed in the summer’s scorching heat described in the original story. The sun’s burning heat doesn’t have a role in this film.

The movie could have been named something else, because the movie doesn’t play to the narrative of the heavy, intense heat found in Kemal’s novel. Kemal’s vivid description, “The world is hazy, the sun dazzling in its intensity. A person can’t open one’s eyes and see ten meters ahead. The fields and plains were on fire. The world was in flames,” doesn’t appear here.

But, İbrahim does remind the viewer of Kemal’s character, Orhan. A man, who like İbrahim, fights with his father, refuses to be passive like his older brother, and one who has a great burning anger against both himself and his family.