At its core, Kaan Müjdeci's film Sivas is a story about a boy (Aslan), the girl he adores (Ayse), his adversary for her love (Osman) and a magical animal. Simple enough, if it was a true fairy tale. But in his feature narrative debut, filmmaker Müjdeci goes deeper, for a cinematic work that he admits, "is its own child -- not an immaculate conception but a film that gives birth to itself slowly, along the ride."
Hidden in plain sight within Sivas are a number of subtexts, from the landscape of Anatolia in Eastern Turkey, where the film takes place but also the recognizable and haunting setting of Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow, to the barbaric practice of dog fighting. I'll admit at one point the film got too harsh for me, and I don't recommend it to the faint of heart. At the start, before the opening credits, there is a line about how no animals were harmed in the making of the film. I can't imagine how. But I digress.
I mentioned Pamuk's Snow earlier, because it is through it that I could relate more organically to Sivas. I needed an extra layer of knowledge to get, truly get the human harshness that a landscape so arduous, so politically charged and yet so poor creates within a little boy. Pamuk makes it clear, gets to the heart of this concept in a passage from his book: "In a brutal country like ours, where human life is 'cheap', it's stupid to destroy yourself for the sake of your beliefs. Beliefs? High ideas? Only people in rich countries can enjoy such luxuries."
In fact, as a personal note I watched Sivas earlier in 2014, at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival as part of my "jury duty" there for the NetPac Award. Shuffled among all those beautiful films, to be watched at the rhythm of at least four a day, the gem hidden within it got lost.
But thankfully, I found it again, and at a time when Sivas is trying to find its way to a US market, and onto the Foreign Language shortlist as Turkey's entry to the Oscar race. Will it make it? I've given up trying to figure out an Academy whose members are such a distant demographic from mine. To date, Sivas has already won a Jury Prize and a Best Actor Prize in the Venice Film Festival, a Best Actor and Child Protection Award in ADFF, among many others around the world.
Bottom line, Sivas should be watched because of the same, favorite leitmotif of mine, a reason I watch and write about films. It deals with "the Other" this figure of an individual -- or a whole people as we are so fond of doing these days, group everyone together -- whom we think is so very different from us, we'll never be able to meet in the middle. Instead Sivas shows this alien, this foreigner, the person we are so incredibly afraid of as a boy who plays the same games we played as children, likes hide and seek and shooting firecrackers with friends, is starting to notice girls and yearns for the company of a dog. Oh, and I didn't even get to the whole Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs part, but you may have to wait until US distribution to find that out.
Which brings me to my final point. I believe there are movies and there are films. Movies are enormous productions that one should always watch on the big screen. You'll miss out on the bigger than life aspect of a movie when you sit behind your computer or tablet surreptitiously downloading it. But films are little tiny jewels that can fill an afternoon, or simply be watched on a plane or during a train ride. And Sivas is one of these films, which would benefit from a platform like Netflix or iTunes, so that everyone with a device can watch it, without having to even put in the effort.
Lets think differently about films and movies and lets bring more independent cinema to a computer screen near us.
Images courtesy of Coloured Giraffes, used with permission.