Yusuf’s Wings

Every year, new talent emerges from Turkish cinema. Adana, near the Mediterranean coast, is a city that nurtures traditional filmmakers. Actually, Adana also cultivates artists and especially literature, but our topic is film.

I have always thought that even if the passion for Adana cinema faded away, if all traces of its historic architecture disappeared, the ancient city would still be a source of cultural wealth. Although it is this richness that differentiates the city, which is continually taking in migrants and has a very cosmopolitan structure, the struggle to live is real. Anyone who knows Adana can be a witness to this struggle every day.

Young filmmaker Banu Sıvacı was brought up in Adana’s fertile lands; her film Güvercin (The Pigeon) is coming out in theatres this week. The movie takes us inside the daily realities of this struggle in Adana. It tells a story of the throes of delayed maturity and the emotional pressure and violence that an introverted and fragile character faces, which causes him to rebel.

The Pigeon made its world premiere in the Generation section of the Berlin Film Festival, where it competed for Best First Film. At the Istanbul Film Festival, Sıvacı won the Seyfi Teoman Best First Film Award, and she won Best Director at the Sofia Film Festival. There is no doubt her list of awards will grow longer in time.

Sıvacı is a director who knows how to create a character and construct a scene to mirror that character’s soul, with a masterful use of metaphor, space, and lighting. The film is only 76 minutes long, but her talent for telling each part of the story with such an economy of language is truly admirable.

Considering today’s directors make movies longer and longer even when the story can be told in a much shorter time, Sıvacı’s film is stark and without frills, side stories, or digressions from the characters; there is no scene that she does not completely control, but the film also has the potential for beauty. She focuses directly on the matters at hand.

The Pigeon takes place in a poor neighbourhood of Adana, where the modern building blocks are designed not as homes but as shelters with a minimum of comfort. The only nature to be found is the sky, and up on the roof is the only place to breathe in this lifeless and treeless world of concrete. The main character is a young man who feels he does not belong in his family or social environment. He cannot keep a grip on today’s world, and it is as though he mistakenly fell from the sky. The only place this innately maladjusted person can find for himself is, naturally, the roof.

The roof is a true home for Yusuf (played by Kemal Burak Alper), who has lost his parents and lives with his older brother (Ruhi Sarı) and sister (Demet Genç). Yusuf has inherited his father’s passion for pigeons, and the roof represents for him the safe refuge of his childhood. His brother and sister are forever trying to force him back to reality; he is smothered by their constant demands to find a job and make some money, so sleeping on the roof has its attractions for him.

When he goes up on the roof, he leaves his problems and responsibilities downstairs and can be himself, looking down on everyone and everything from above. Pigeon fancying is his great passion, but part of this is love is his yearning for freedom as he gazes, starry-eyed, at the pigeons flying away. His winged pigeon family does what he cannot do, and all they want is a bit of food, a bit of water, and a dovecote to protect them from birds of prey.

The affinity Yusuf feels for Maverdi, a female bird that does not really care to join her flock, is reminiscent of Birdy, the hero of Alan Parker’s famous film of the same name, and his relationship with birds. The subject and style of Yusuf’s pigeon fancying also resembles Ken Loach’s film Kes, about a boy named Billy who is always in trouble at school and constantly bullied. Billy makes friends with a kestrel falcon, and begins to identify with the bird. The Pigeon captures both the emotion of Kes and the intensity of Birdy. Yusuf and Maverdi are more or less soul mates. In fact, Yusuf’s breaking point is getting into her dovecote and nest and harming the birds.

“It’s time to make some money,” his brother tells him, and forces the frail and fragile Yusuf out into the world of unskilled workers and heavy manual labour. He is obliged to join that difficult life, but he is always looking in from the outside, observant and watchful. Yusuf begins processing and recycling the trash, second-hand items, and scrap metal of people from another class and another life. He stacks car parts and shovels debris, but his mind is always with the care of the pigeons.

At the film’s turning point, the hero’s breaking point is falling in love. He takes the first steps towards spiritual maturity and getting outside of himself. Yusuf rebels against his hand-to-mouth existence and an environment that imposes a model of masculinity where brute force is used to defend one’s rights; his suppressed adolescent rage is finally released.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.