"Motherland" by Senem Tüzen (Turkey/Greece)
Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival - Forum Section
Name: Vassilis Economou
As a relatively current trend, the Anatolian Neorealism has succeeded to attract quite an expanded audience in the recent years. The genre that was thematically introduced to the West by Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s works has now become more approachable to the festival circuits. Senem Tüzen is following that path through her debut feature film, Motherland, where she is exploring the fragile issue of women’s position and role in today’s Turkey.
Recently divorced middle-class Nesrin (Esra Bezen Bilgin) abandons her urban city environment to visit her grandmother’s hometown somewhere in Anatolia. She is an aspiring writer and believes that going back to her roots will aid her inspiration. Despite Nesrin’s disagreements, her mother Halise (Nihal G. Koldas) decides to forcefully visit her. This will be, for both of them, a journey to their personal motherlands where they are re-exploring one each other and a reason to focus on their unstable ongoing love-hate relationship.
Motherland could be an extremely personal film for Tüzen – who also wrote the screenplay – as she tries through a truly sensitive and extremely female perspective to investigate how two different generations could literally coexist. Progression versus tradition, open-minded secularism versus religious superstitions, personal freedom versus public opinion are some of the key issues that will force the heroines to reach their edges. Halise is representing a dying but still ruling world in Turkish society that should be respected but not necessarily accepted. She’s going through a transitional period as she realizes that she’s not anymore satisfied by her gender imposed role. Nesrin is trying to break the rules and set her own life in her own terms without compromising and without asking anyone’s permission. Although, she also feels slightly marginalised and depressed because it is impossible to satisfy her personal needs. Behind the initial superficial conflict between them, truth lies, and probably the similarities that connect mother and daughter are far more obvious than their differences.
Tüzen intensifies the conflicts as she creates an almost claustrophobic environment in a rural house. Both women are forced to live through an unconventional open prison that will make them express themselves freely and without any real limitations. Everything is developed through a minimal, natural and almost anthropological exposition which follows a rather slow-paced rhythm in absolute synchronization with Anatolia’s essence of living. The rather linear story is impressively enhanced thanks to the balanced but simultaneously captivating performances by Bilgin and Koldas, that can transfer the tension of their characters to the viewer. A series of long shots combined with extreme close-ups under natural rough light through Vedat Özdemir’s lens mark visually the neorealist impact.
So is Motherland the place of reconciliation or actually the root of all evil? This still remains unclear and it is suggested that it should remain that way. Tüzen isn’t reaching for any possible solution – although she admits that there’s none – but she pushes her heroines to their necessary psychological boundaries even for pure researching reasons. Her sort of polarizing technique would create a diversified and personal outcome to the experimenting viewer that, despite an awkward finale that doesn’t affect the final result, has to be confronted with elements already present in his own live.