A while back in school, our class had a chance to see Yilmaz Guney’s Arkadas for the first time, the print was in Turkish with no English sub and the only word we could understand was the word Arkadas meaning “Friend” in Turkish. Yet, by the end of the film, many of us had tears in our eyes, that is the power of Guney’s cinema, a visual cinema, a purist cinema that manages to communicate emotions visually rather than through dialogues.
Arkadas was made in 1974 during a time in which the Turkish state was under control by the military, more than anything, Arkadas is a political statement about the corrupt state of which Turkey was in at the time, a gap between rich and the poor is the main theme of the film, a very critical statement about the modern state of Turkey. Soon after the completion of the film, Guney was charged in a murder and send to jail until his escape in 1981 to France and his triumph in Cannes Film Festival with the film Yol, winning Palme d’Or. Arkadas proved to be his last film that Guney completely had control over to direct, it was another 10 years until he had a chance to direct Duvar in exile in France.
In Arkadas, Yilmaz Guney play Azem who visit his childhood friend, Djmal, both are now engineers but from two separate world. Azem is poor and had dedicated his life helping small villages and communities grows in the poverty stricken areas, while Cemil is a corporate man who is now rich and live in a bourgeois community and spend most of his times partying without any care for the outside world. The arrival of Azem build up tension in Cemil’s family that include his wife (Necibe) and her sister (Melike). Azem also becomes active in the community by educating the workers about their condition despite the dismay of Necibe’s friend and neighbor. After a long effort, Azem finally convince Djemil to go back and visit their poverty stricken village in which we find poverty and sickness among the local, which create a dilemma in Djmil, he makes a decision to leave his rich life and wife, dedicate his times to improve their conditions, but to Azem’s dismay, the last 7 minutes of the films proves the opposite, Djemil is unable to leave his wife and rich life, instead, he decide to stay which lead Azem to make a decision to leave the family and Melike whom by now had fallen in love with him.
It was Alfred Hitchock who once said that “Film is about taking out the boring part of life”, but the opposite is true of Arkadas, it is film not about action but about looking and observing the repetitions of daily life. The films opens with a lengthy scene of documentary footage of people in the beach that is shown from Azem’s POV. He is always framed alone as an individual, looking and observing other character’s movement, at one point, Melike ask Azem “Why don’t you swim”, he answered back by moving his eyes around looking, “I don’t swim, I just look at the sea”, she is amazed “I don’t understand it”, Azem again moves his head around looking “I just look…like this”.
As an audience we are like Azem, observing two world, one of the rich and one of the poor. Throughout the film, Guney uses a long focal lens to shoot the scenes, it breakdown the layers and create an illusion of a space that is monotone, the few times that he uses a wider lens is when the class difference break down, like the showing groups of workers and servants. The opening 5 minute is a about capturing the daily life of the people in the rich neighborhood, we are shown characters that have no significant to the film but are part of a bourgeoisie class, they are all part of the same layer, daily routine activity; riding bicycle, drinking and eating, swimming, playing, etc. Materialist object are given a big close-up, drinking glass, foods, shaving machine, cloth, make-up, boats, cars, etc. The same scenes and shots are bridged into the film over and over connecting various sequences, nothing to do but a repetition of the same daily life routines. The opposite is true when in the second part of the film we are taken to the villages and the poor poverty stricken areas, we are still observing, but this time the footage is raw, the people are hard working, they are struggling to survive their daily life, the close-up of object that we are shown in previous sequences are now raw materials that is produced here and consumes over there. The music throughout the film serves as a separation barrier, each class, each place and each theme have its own unique soundtrack which is used in repetitions throughout film. A simple cut can take us from the world of the poor to that of the rich, as we rapidly change the worlds of ideas, a juxtapositions cut of poverty stricken children to that of the rich one is among the most provocative montage sequences in the film.
The final 7 minute of the film is the climax, Azem and Djmil arrive home after their long journey. It is decision time, in the house awaits Necibe and Melike (whom by now we know that she has fallen in love with Azem). The sequence is a great example of building a cinematic climax that is based on stretching times, use of lens to create an illusion of separation, acting taken to its simplicity by the use of gestures and body movement, use of editing at creating off-screen space and the use of music as a tool to create mood and atmosphere. Let us have a look of what make these scene move a person emotionally to the edge of tears:
The climax is made of total of 51 editing shots in the final film, each character is separated from the others by a vast off-screen space and as a viewer we never know where we are in term of geographical space to each characters, long focal lens is used to tighten the space between the character and the background, in a quick succession of close-up and editing cuts between the characters, we soon realize that Djmil is not able to leave his rich live and join Azem, without any dialogue, but through the use of psychological gestures and cross-cutting we are shows the swift change of emotions, like the western film of Sergio Leone whom Guney was very found of, the scene turn into a duel, with Djmil lost between Azem and Necibe, it is a perfect example of Kuleshov effect of montage at work, while all the time the sound of an abstract car engine running is the only things that is heard on the soundtrack, it slowly build up until is lead to a total silence like the inner emotional roller coaster feeling of Djmil, as he collapses in the arms of Necibe, the sound becomes silence, signifying his surrender.
This silence lead us into the farewell scene between Azem and Malik. The use of tight close-up break down the space and separate the two character emotionally, Malik is blocking the door, she is leaning against the door as if not able to support herself and as the scene progress and she realize her inability to stop Azem from leaving, she slowly opens the door making way for Azem to leave. The acting is all done by the use of psychological and head movement that lead to slow gestures, it is as if time and space has collapsed, a slow raising of the head, an opening/closing of the eye, a slow gaze into each other’s eyes is used as a mean of communication rather than dialogues, this slowly lead into an empty frame and then a slow pan camera movement for a brief two shot that for the first time we connect Azem and Malik, it is the final scene we see the two together as she hug him for the last time, a two shot that abruptly collapses into a tight close up of Malik crying as the camera harshly zoom in and the music swallow to its emotional peak. It is a masterful climax build through the use of slow rather than exaggerated timely psychological movements and gesture and a slow change of emotional tone into a heartbreaking climax.
Throughout the climax, Azem is separated from the other characters by having him framed in a single close-up shot and in front of a empty background until the end as he walk away from the house. To signify his freedom, a full tracking shot with bring life to the scene after a climaxes that had Azem as the prisoner in the house, the camera track back as Azim look back for the final time at the house, a slow pause, a look, as he walk away into the unknown.
There is no secret that Yilmaz Guney’s films always had a leftist political ideology to it and Arkadas is no different. Guney, like all master-filmmakers uses cinema as a tool to put foreword a personal inner dilemma about the class difference and one’s inability to change. Throughout the film, Azem’s character is shot in direct eye-line to the audience, looking at the camera, looking at the audience, Guney is trying to communicate with us. Azem’s dilemma is an existential one, his desire for all mankind, for each individual to serve humanity and not to just serve oneself, that is why the ending is so heartbreaking, he is left alone, he is unable to convince others to lead the same life as he had lead, for the world of Utopia is one that few rarely had managed to claim to have seen, Guey is there to remind us that such world does exist, even if it is in the mind of a single individual, in Arkadas it is the mind of Azem, for what is the world but an illusion created by one’s perceptions of it.
Directed by: Yilmaz Güney
Writing credits: Yilmaz Güney
Kerim Afsar… Djemil
Azra Balkan… Necibe, Djemil’s wife
Melike Demirag… Melike, Djemil’s sister-in-law
Nizam Ergüden…Muhittin, Djemil’s brother
Produced by: Yilmaz Güney
Original Music by:
Cinematography: Çetin Tunca