Monday, November 21, 2016

Metin Erksan | Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer)

hoarding nature
by Douglas Messerli

Metin Erksan, Kemal İnci, and İsmet Soydan (screenplay, based on a story by Necati Cumalı), Metin Erksan (director) Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer) / 1964

The Turkish film Dry Summer features an outright old-fashioned villain, Osman (Erol Taş) who suddenly one day maliciously decides to damn up a spring on his property, the source of water for his tobacco-farming neighbors as well.

His more handsome and caring younger brother, Hasan (Ulvi Dogan) attempts to dissuade him in his decision, explaining that such an act will surely not well with the neighbors and the community at large. But Osman refuses to listen, and goes ahead with his plan. As the younger brother, Hasan and his local fiancée Bahar (Hülya Koçyiğit) have little choice but to go along with him.

      Besides the young couple, desperately in love, have wedding plans on their minds. In one of the earliest scenes, director Metin Erksan depicts their love-making in a patch of tall reeds, wherein Hasan must discover her before they can make love, that scene emphasizing the force of nature that has overtaken them and their rapport with it. Soon after, they are married, despite the wishes of Bahar’s mother.
      Rather than accept the natural world in which he lives, Osman has determined to steal what the villagers describe as “earth’s blood,” holding onto the natural resource for use only on his  own land. Obviously, in attempting to go against the dictates of the natural—the water naturally flows from the spring to the farms below—Hasan’s prediction comes true: things do go terribly wrong. At first, the locals take Osman to court, where they win, the damn being removed by authorities.
      But when Osman countersues, and the verdict is reversed by a higher judge, the same authorities are forced restore the small, home-made damn. As their crops shrivel up in the title’s dry summer, the neighbors take things into their own hands, moving towards Osman’s spring en masse; amazingly he battles them off. But when, later, a couple of the men return to remove the damn, he demands that his brother join him in shooting expedition that ends with the death of one of the men. 
      Erksan carefully shows Hasan refusing to fire, so that we know Osman has killed the villager. Yet Osman insists that Hasan take on the guilt, assuring his brother that because he is younger and married, he will get a lighter prison-term than the elder.
      In this fable-like story, the innocent is sent to prison, while the greedy brother remains at home to tend the farm and lust after Bahar. When she and Osman attempt to visit Hasan in prison, we discover that Hasan has been sent to another prison, further away. And soon after we discover that Osman has been ripping up his brother’s letters instead of passing them on to his wife.

       Like a hungry panther, Osman circles Bahar, watching her undress through a slat of wood, intensely staring at her—at one point, while milking a cow in her presence, sucking on the beast’s tits— and finally touching up against her, ready for the rape. When she finally hears that Hasan had died in prison, she gives in to Osman’s demands.

       Hasan, we discover soon after, has not died, and upon being given his freedom, is warned by a lawyer, to lay low.

       Clearly, however, in his bitter silence, Hasan has been changed, and we can tell as this former gentle man storms across the fields that he plans for revenge. Bahar, attempting to undo the damn yet again, is shot by Osman. Hasan nonetheless proceeds to his brother, finally drowning him in the water he has attempted to claim for his own, Osman’s body slowly being dragged downstream, as the water is released for all to use.

     As I have suggested, there is a fable-like quality to this work; and it ends in that magical world: Bahar has not been killed, but only wounded, and is carried to safety by her husband.
      Clearly, Erksan’s work was highly influenced by Italian neo-realism; yet, with its surrealist-like images and fabulist trappings, it is a great statement of Turkish cinema, winning the Golden Bear Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Never before had a Turkish product been so highly awarded, and one might have thought that this film would have led to a new level in Turkish film-making. But its very success caused a huge uproar among other film directors for the government to permit the showing of European and American works, resulting in a near abandonment of serious local filmmaking. Only in his last years of his life did the director—who was censored and finally left the film industry, producing primarily TV—see his 1964 film restored and his countrymen giving new respect for his and other Turkish film pioneer’s works.
     At 83, Erksan died this year of complications from kidney disease.

November 21, 2012

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