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May 12 2018

Cano: Kurdish avant-garde

Cano, the third film after Veşarti and Genco to be made by Ali Kemal Çınar and his artistic team, is being aired as part of Başka Sinema, a Diyarbakır film festival that says it is “fully independent”.

The film, which features Mehmet Salih Demir as the lead actor, but also the director, screenwriter, and editor, is made by the Layen company, one of the less directly political of the Kurdish studios that has seen some critical success at film festivals.

The movie is named after the character Cano, who is a teacher living with his mother. We see him in the first few scenes of the film, but we later learn that Cano goes missing when his mother calls his friend Ibrahim on the phone.

The film explores Ibrahim's search for Cano, the efforts of his friends to find hints of his whereabouts, his trip to visit Cano’s mother in her village, how indifferent people can be to such a disappearance, Ibrahim's unsuccessful relationship with his girlfriend, and his internal dialogue while observing couples at a cafe.

The film takes on an ironic stance by showing Cano's disappearance as "extraordinary" in a region where getting lost or going missing without a trace for political reasons is ordinary. The film first sets up a utopian world where people deal with personal problems, not politics.

Then Ibrahim's search takes him to Nusaybin, located southeast of Diyarbakir and the scene of heavy fighting between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the security forces. We see how the lives of the people of Nusaybin who have been turned upside down. Even the ruined symbolism of Nusaybin puts its stamp on the film. It says, "this is the reality - this is what we've seen, known, and witnessed", even if from some places it goes unseen. 

Essentially because it constitutes an alternative historiography, Kurdish cinema in Turkey, which is made up mostly of documentaries, is usually directly political and engaged. These films can be thought of as apolitical, but they are political in terms of being a means of existence, a tool of resistance, the outcome of the need to make movies despite everything, and a will to make something no matter how it is made.

Cano, like previous works made by Layen productions, is a reaction to consumer society. More precisely, it is an example of the Arte Povera/Poor Art movement. This movement, which emerged in 1960s Italy, is different from minimalism – these directors used material found on hand, used in daily life such as tin cans, rocks, soil, coal, trash, paper, and rags to make art.

In line with this principle, the scenes in Cano are shot inside houses, on the streets, in cafes, or in stores, and do not focus on the beauty of a place or its surroundings. Additionally, the film's intentional preference for the unexceptional or what might be referred to as the carelessness and colourless, and the actors’ deadpan delivery makes it an example of guerrilla cinema, a huge market of more than 150 movies a year with budgets in the millions.

When it comes to Cano, however, I am divided between appreciating the artistic vision and attitude and not being able to completely indulge in the film. It is like feeling your eyes and soul are drawn to the paintings in chic galleries while you are standing respectfully in front of the works of Arte Povera as they lay out their manifesto.

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