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Stances of Solitude. A Cinema of Cold, Hard Reality: Zeki Demirkubuz

TOGETHER ALONE took shape as a combination of few inner experiences: the discovery of Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’, ‘Mental Minefields: The Dark tales of Zeki Demirkubuz’ and the desire to articulate the strange feeling of seclusion one can experience in crowded spaces.

Urged to discover cinematic masterpieces for the film season I am preparing, I realised that one in particular has been ‘there’ for me: Bulanti (2015), dir. Zeki Demirkubuz, and thus programming it became a cardinal need.

It is very interesting to observe how people relate to the places where they unravel their lives. It is a story of each place with each person, we just have to enable us to see it. This ability to identify with the characters challenges us to reenact that story. I lean towards the provocation when it comes to narrative and storytelling. It is the challenge that drives me in. Even if I know little about the filmmaker if the film appeals to me, I start the journey.

I was somewhat unacquainted with Zeki Demirkubuz’ universe before watching NAUSEA (BULANTI) back in 2016, but the storyline captivated me: “A prominent intellectual have lost his wife and daughter in a traffic accident moves on unaffected. Ahmet, the main character cares about nothing, not even his lover”. For me, this could be a synonym to a prison, in which the character finds himself trapped in his own mind.

Hence, this need to fathom the director’s cinematic realm laid the foundation of TOGETHER ALONE. Mostly dark films were revealed to me, but, as Sartre stated, I happen to realize that ‘‘I exist. It is soft, so soft, so slow. And light: it seems as though it suspends in the air. It moves.’’ Watching Demirkubuz`s film bear resemblance to a purification journey one can embark on. I could see Nausea both as a therapy and radiography of a society where people are surrounded by people, where they communicate through social media without being able to connect or, sometimes not wanting to. He is an auteur with a genuine spiritual sensitivity.

On that account who is Zeki Demirkubuz?  He recalls: “I was imprisoned between the ages of 17 and 21. I’m a pure unbeliever now, but I’m not an atheist: I believe in doubt, and it’s that feeling that makes it impossible for me to be a communist, or a follower of any other ideology. When I was in prison I read Crime and Punishment for the first time, and it really helped me understand what I had lived through. I felt [my time in prison] was going to lead into something. I thought I would become a writer, but I became a filmmaker.”

The presence of Camus, Sartre and Dostoevsky moulding into his movies is not surprising as Life and Literature are his sources of inspiration. One can argue that prison introduced him to the classics and that is where his education began. For many of his generation, arrest and imprisonment was normal, even a rite of passage. It was where he read Dostoyevsky for the first time and became obsessed with the Russian master. “It took me ten years to begin to understand him. To understand that character, spirit and nature was more important than politics, because of the pain….  Pain is everywhere, we must all face it. Therefore all my films are about pain”.

But is not only pain we experience in his films, as there are moments of sheer dark humour. He handles the plots with a mixture of distance and irony that produces an emotional flatness echoed in so many of his lead characters.

Demirkubuz is one of the extraordinary contemporary talents Turkish cinema has quietly produced to surprise, delight and challenge the world. Like his friend Nuri Bilge Ceylan, responsible for such masterpieces as the Cannes-winning Distant, Demirkubuz seems surprised that his serious films have struck such an international chord. Yet he is one of a select club of directors to have had two films competing at Cannes at the same time, and probably the only one who credits the generals who threw him into prison for turning him into a filmmaker.

 

Read the next article with Urszula Antoniak here.