Monday, 11 November 2013


“You know, those of us who leave our homes in the morning and expect to find them there when we go back – it’s hard for us to understand what the experience of a refugee might be like.” - Naomi Shihab Nye

We watched an excellent Turkish film at the weekend, a good production from the Ay Yapim company, which also produces many of the very good contemporary Turkish TV series. It was the 2011 Çagan Irmak film “Dedemin Insanlari”  (My Grandfather’s People), starring Çetin Tekindor, Yigit Özsener, Gökçe Bahadir, Sacide Tasaner, Hümeyra, Durukan Çelikkaya and Eirini Inglesi. The director also wrote the screenplay of this partly autobiographical film, which looks back at the history of his own family and the way they settled in Western Turkey after leaving Crete, Greece, in the 1920s.

A little bit of the historical context that is relevant to the movie will help the viewer, although it is not essential to be aware of it in order to appreciate the great story or the wonderful acting. After the first World War, Greece and Turkey were involved in a bitter conflict, which ended with the massacre of many people on both sides and decision to exchange populations. Greeks who had been living for generations on the Western coast of Turkey were sent to Greece and Turks living in Greece were sent to Turkey. Millions of people were involved and their stories are dramatic and tragic in many cases. The survivors who were forced to settle in new countries were seen as immigrants by the locals: The Turks who migrated to Turkey were always thought of as “Greeks”, and the Greeks who migrated to Greece were thought of as “Turks” – even though they immigrated into countries where the locals spoke the same language as them and had the same religion…

The plot of the movie is about a family whose grandfather came to the Western coast of Turkey from Crete. The family managed to settle in Turkey successfully and the majority of the film is set in the 1970s, where the grandfather is a shop owner, his son-in-law is assistant mayor and his young grandson is a cheeky, spoilt child who nevertheless does well at school.

The whole family has had to deal with prejudice from the locals who view them as interlopers and the young grandson is reacting violently in the same prejudiced way to a new wave of new immigrants into their neighbourhood, having become more local than the locals himself. The conflict that develops between grandfather and grandson, despite their great love for each other is explored beautifully by the movie. Ultimately, it is a coming of age movie where the grandson’s relationship with his grandfather forms the centrepiece of the movie, which nevertheless explores complex issues around the topics of nationality, ideology, the sense of belonging, community, prejudice, intolerance and the futility of war.

The acting is exemplary with amazing performances by all of the cast. Both Grandfater (Çetin Tekindor) and grandson (Durukan Çelikkaya) are outstanding and are the foundation of the film. Nevertheless they are supported admirably by every single other member of the cast. The director has done a marvellous job with both the sensitive screenplay and restrained direction, which highlights the plight of displaced people, but also acknowledges his own personal family history. The flash-backs and flash-forwards are done extremely well and with great effect, being central to the story.

There is a wonderful sense of humanity in this film. As a Greek myself, and as one whose father’s family was one of those that had to come to Greece from the Western coast of Turkey in the 1920s, this film touched a sensitive nerve with me. I saw this film with the same eyes that the Turks involved in the story did, but viewed from the “other side” of the Aegean Sea. The sea that separates and joins Greeks and Turks, the sea that serves as the means of division and union. The sea that carries a common history, a shared culture and dissolves in it the same dreams and aspirations.

We enjoyed very much this wonderful, touching and poignant film, which is sensitive to the point of view of both sides of Aegean Sea. Although it was a two-hour long movie, we lost track of the time and became thoroughly engaged in it. The film has a good dose of drama in it, but it is relieved by touches of humour. The dialogues are lively, the acting and direction is great, the music well chosen and apt. Great film, available on DVD, see it!

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