Since December 2009 – Istanbul/Turkey

Vavien, Turkish Black Comedy

Good news for this blog’s movie enthusiasts who enjoy discovering more about Turkish cinema: The Taylan Brothers’ latest film “Vavien” is now on DVD.

Durul Taylan and Yağmur Taylan are called by many Turkish film critics as Turkey’s Coen Brothers. They made their first feature film “School” (“Okul”) in 2004 and the second one “Little Apocalypse” (Küçük Kıyamet”) in 2006.   Their third and latest film “Vavien” (2009) is now accepted as their best film.

Sweeping the prestigious awards

“Vavien” has received many prestigious awards in Turkey. The most recent ones came from the National Jury of the 29th İstanbul Festival Film Festival only a few days ago – on April 17, 2010.  It managed to get two Golden Tulip Awards for the Best Film and the Best Screenplay. The film also received a third award at the same festival, which was the International Federation of Film Critics Prize, known as the FIPRESCI Prize.

Among the other awards the film has received, are three Yeşilçam Awards 2010 for the Best Music (Atilla Özdemiroğlu), the Best Actress (Binnur Kaya) and the Best Screenplay (Engin Günaydın). The film also received the Sadri Alışık Award for the Best Actress (Binnur Kaya).

In addition, the film got 5 of the Turkish Film Critics Association Awards 2009 (known as SİYAD Awards in Turkey): the Best Music (Atilla Özdemiroğlu), the Best Art Direction (Elif Taşçıoğlu), the Best Actress (Binnur Kaya), the Best Supporting Actor (Settar Tanrıöğen) and the Best Screenplay (Engin Günaydın).

What “Vavien” is about and why it is so good

“Vavien” is a black comedy telling us the story of a family living in a small town in the Black Sea region of Turkey. Celal is the local electrician who wants to get rid of his wife Sevilay, a dutiful Turkish wife. They have a teenage son.

This may all sound ordinary and familiar. However, as soon as the story unfolds, the beautifully written screenplay starts revealing in a witty manner that each member of the family has something to hide from one another. Through symmetrical depictions, family secrets are revealed. In one scene we see Celal hiding his porn collection and in the next scene we see the teenage son uncovering it, watching it, masturbating and then putting the CDs back in their hiding place. Meanwhile the father hears all of this as he is down in the cellar taking his wife’s secret money which her father has been sending from Germany for the last 15 years in case she is dumped by her husband one day.

One of the things that makes “Vavien” an extraordinary film is the way it unearths the hidden. Metaphorically the film takes photographs of a Turkish town and its people. The audience is, in return, expected to think about very important matters such as the unfulfilled lives, patriarchal struggles, emasculation, lack of communication between married couples, women’s victimization. Shortly, “Vavien” tells “a dirty story”, as the Taylan Brothers said in an interview for the prestigious Turkish movie magazine “Altyazı”. However, it does so exhibiting all the characteristics of a good black comedy, so maybe that’s why we don’t feel that “dirty” watching the film.

In addition to its well-crafted screenplay, the beauty of the film also lies in the performances of both the leading and the supporting actors. Engin Günaydın and Binnur Kaya both played in “Avrupa Yakası” for years, one of the most popular Turkish sitcom on Turkish TV, but in “Vavien” they manage to detach themselves from their sitcom personas. In the film, Binnur Kaya’s acting is definitely first-class. In all the scenes she appears in, she grows “bigger” as an actress… especially, in the scene where she finds out that her money has been stolen. Here, the Taylan Brothers’ close-up on the actress’s eyes is very telling: she needs no words.

What is also good about the film is its dream-like quality in the second part. Sevilay’s “comeback” feels both real and unreal. Her comeback may only exist in Celal’s mind.

Just a suggestion

We would like our readers to watch the last scene of the film where we see Celal and his family in the car. Please pause the film there for a while and look at the shot as if it is a family photo. What does this photo tell you? What is hidden behind the happiness in the photo?

And final remarks

More things can be written about the film, but we believe the way the National Jury of the 29th İstanbul Film Festival described it while presenting the FIPRESCI Prize prevents any further coment: “… an [extremely] enjoyable and unpredictable, well-acted dark comedy from the heartland of Anatolia that links elements of popular comedy with a witty and intelligent screenplay.”

What is “black comedy”?

In “Film: An Introduction”, William H. Phillips defines black comedy as “a style used in some narratives since WW II that shows the humorous possibilities in subjects previously considered off-limits to comedy, such as warfare, murder, death, and dying” (p.563).Phillips  also writes that black comedies are often satiric.

And… TarkanPLUS International interviews Engin Günaydın

Click here to read the interview

Note 1: The DVD has English subtitles.
Note 2: “Vavien” means a two-way light switch.

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