This is a Turkish film restored by the World Cinema Foundation and screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato this year. It was recommended for restoration by Fatih Akin (the young Turkish-German filmmaker), who introduced the screening along with one of the surviving cast members. The film is considered important because it featured a key director of the 1960s, Orner Lüfti Akad, and as writer and star, the now well known filmmaker Yilmaz Güney.
Akin writes on the film: “Turkish cinema in the Sixties took place in a dream world. The movies of that era refused to look directly at Turkish society. . . . This was the beginning of what would later be called ‘New Cinema’ in Turkey, with its powerful cinematography and its direct and realistic depiction of social problems”.
The film is set in the Southeast border region of Turkey. The area is policed and controlled by the army. However, the poverty and lack of resources drive people to the ‘law of the border’, smuggling. The attempts to prevent such activities are draconian, including minefields along the border.
The key characters in the film are Hidir, (played by Güney) an expert in defeating the methods restricting border crossings. Standing against him is the new army lieutenant (his predecessor was shot), Zeki. However, the real conflict and violence is between Hidir and a rival smuggler Ali Cello. Their competition is aggravated by the actions of a local rich landowner, Dervis Aga. The conflict is also complicated by Hidir’s young son, Yusuf, and by a local teacher, Miss Ayse. Zeki is an enlightened officer, and he co-operates with Ayse to open a school in Hidir’s village, Deliviran. Because of his fears for his son’s future Hidir is torn between his success as a smuggler and the alternatives. One of these is a sharecropping scheme, facilitated by Zeki. However, it depends on the landowner Dervis Aga, who is more interested in profits than in social action. His plotting with Ali Cello sets up a violent and finally tragic ending.
Güney’s Hidir is a powerful centre to the film. He was to become the most popular star in Turkish cinema. Zeki is a liberal officer who also represents progress. This applies equally to Miss Ayse, who is a modern woman wearing western clothing and even smoking on one occasion. This sets both Zeki and Ayse off from the milieu of Hidir, traditional and religious.
In introducing the film Akin had to explain the poor quality of the surviving materials used in the restoration. Apparently only one print survived a coup d’état in 1980: all other sources being seized and destroyed. The Foundation notes explain how they used these sparse sources to create a print, which is still marked by this wear and tear. It notes “some frames were missing”, but apparently this new version is more or less complete. Akin also remarked that the final film was a ‘compromise’ between filmmakers and the army. The character of Zeki was presumably important in this respect. At the same time the sympathetic portrayal of what the establishment would regard as criminal and subversive presumably explains why the film was savaged later.
It took me a little time to identify the key characters and their different situations. However, once I had done this the narrative is relatively straightforward: the style less so. The film is clearly influenced by neo-realism: possibly also by spaghetti westerns, and it plays in many ways like a western, with a strong revenge motif. But is also uses unconventional techniques of other new waves, in particular the jump cut. One sequence of a shoot-out reminded me irresistibly of the work of Glauber Rocha.
There is extensive use of jump cuts, especially as the drama increases. The editing generally is often unconventional. I did wonder if there were missing sequences but it appears to be more or less complete. My wonder sprang from a series of shots inserted between scenes, which merely show characters and setting, then continue elsewhere. I assume these are intended as emblematic shots and form part of the visual commentary of the film.
By the film’s end, having got to grips with the characters and their conflicts, I found that it developed a really powerful feeling. And whilst downbeat, it is not entirely despairing, there is the possibility of a future. That is ironic as the border areas continue to be a severe problem for Turkish society and the Turkish State. A film reviewed at the Leeds Festival, Kosmos (2010), was set in the Bulgarian/Turkish border area, and once again there were border problems and the ever present military.
The film is worth seeing both for its quality and power, and also because so little of Turkish cinema is available in the west. It seems that in this period Turkish cinema was producing up to 300 films a year. Yet nearly all are little known, and there is little available English writing on Turkish film. Some of the later films that Güney directed are available, like Yol (1982). But largely it is another ‘unknown’ cinema.
Unfortunately the World Cinema Foundation films tend to turn up at festivals rather than getting a wider distribution. And they do not appear to have a policy, or perhaps the resources, for DVD releases. But it is worth keeping an eye open for an opportunity to see this film.
Hudutlarin Kannu / The Law of the Border
Turkey 1966. Director: Lüfti Akad.
Scenario, dialogue: Orner Lufti Akad, Yilmaz Güney. From the novel by Yilmaz Güney.
Ph: Ali Uğur. Music: Nida Tüfekçi.
Yildiz film studios. 35mm, black and white, 74 minutes.
Cast: Hidir – Yilmaz Güney. Ayse, teacher – Pervin Par. Yusuf, Hidir’s son – Hikmet Olgun. Ali Cello – Erol Tas. Bekir – Tuncel Kurtiz. Dervis Aga – Osman Alyanak. Abuzer – Aydemir Akbas. Zeki, First Lieutenant – Atilla Ergün.
Restored by the World Cinema Foundation at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory.
Turkish version with French subtitles: English translation provided for screening.