TIFF ’10: Day 2 ~ My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var)

[This post was reconstructed  from an earlier lost effort]

Earlier this year I had seen one of Reha Erdem’s films (Kosmos) at the Boston-Turkish film festival. This one (an earlier film) is quite different. Part of TIFF’s City-To-City Programming, this year the focus is on Istanbul. And Erdem’s film captures the splendor and vibrancy of that city to great effect. A city I fell in love with on a visit several years ago.

Fourteen year old Hayat (sunshine, played by Elit Iscan) lives with her father and bed-ridden grandfather in a shack right on the glittering Bosphorus Sea. Her mother left while the father was in the army, and abandoned her to him when he came back. She’s left on her own (except for her grandfather) for the most part as her father engages in his various illegal  activities (running back and forth to the freighters anchored off shore, pimping and smuggling). Her only companionship is a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll which when squeezed sings “You Are My Sunshine”, giggles, and says “I love you.” But it’s apparent that Hayat wants the real thing, not a red furry substitute. She does have a relative that takes care of her sometimes, but their relationship is very ambiguous.

Through her stringy, tangled hair, her smoldering eyes peer out at the world as if to wonder is this the way it will be? And although the ending may be problematic,  Hayat’s story serves to frame – and  parallel – the tarnished glory of the past and the fervent hopes for the future.

Technically, a very interesting film – especially the soundtrack. The ambient noise is persistent and recurring: the wheeze of the grandfather, puffing on his cigarettes by his oxygen tank, the traffic of the city, the scream of jets overhead (one can almost see these as American warplanes, off on missions from Turkish bases). Then there’s the constant hum of Hayat, an accompaniment to her interior monologue. The film can be repetitive (but it’s a conscious choice of the director) and seems longer than it actually is. Some viewer’s will surely react to this differently.

Much of the film is a mix of the real and the imagined (as filtered from the thoughts and impulses of Hayat): her mother forces her to submit to a haircut, she is raped, she drops her step-brother into the Bosphorus, she asks a mysterious man to marry her…all of these things may or may not have actually happened. It’s a tribute to the director, that these doubts continue to crop up long after the film has been seen.

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