Monday, September 13, 2021

Aaahh Belinda! (1986)

Atıf Yılmaz was a living legend in the Turkish film industry. His forte was dramas about the human condition. [Naturally he was often not working with the money or resources he needed, but it's a testament to his skills that he still managed to turn out much loved classics. He kept going strong even during the 90s, a time when the Turkish film industry wasn't what it once was. As far as I know, this is my first time discussing him directly on the blog, mainly because I don't normally watch those kinds of films. I prefer less of the dramatic Oscar material where widows weep and men die, and instead more of the cheesy pulp fare. Y'know, basically all of the stuff Turkey is ashamed of, instead of what they're proud of. But I'm always interested in broadening my horizons, and part of being a film historian is watching everything. So with that I'm diving into the amusingly titled Aaahh Belinda!...

Serap in an independent woman working a = but unrewarding/hectic job in TV commercials. One day, during the middle of a shoot, her shooting studio vanishes, and Serap suddenly finds herself living inside a popular soap opera, as the traditional/submissive housewife Naciye. Saddled with a husband, kids, and various responsibilities, Serap tries to figure out what's going on, and juggle everything in this new life, and hope she gets home before she goes crazy...

Aaahh Belinda! is a film I've seen twice now. The first time was a couple of years ago, when the title immediately lured me in. I was a little disappointed to not get what I was expecting, but I did succeed in putting that out of mind and enjoying the film for what it was, and I've been eager to revisit it for a while now.

Belinda is a social commentary on the place of women in modern Turkish society, focusing on the television industry, and on conservative home life. Serap is an ardent feminist, and has a happy sex life despite being unmarried, before suddenly finding herself in a more submissive environment, where values begin at home, and women 'know their place'. At first this environment is anathema to a woman such as Serap, and even the name Naciye comes from a masculine one (Naci), compared to the singular Serap. As time goes on though she comes to accept it in certain ways, while still remaining independent in others.

The story focuses on how women from such different social conditions live   The movie is very open-minded for its time. Nowadays Turkish movies don't really worry about limitations, and show whatever they like. But for a movie back then to show a woman being sexually open (within reason) and not shaming her for it is a surprising thing! Just goes to show how ahead of his time Yılmaz was.

Then there's Aaahh Belinda's commentary on acting. It could be an allegory on the lengths actors have to go to truly immerse themselves in their roles, becoming their characters in essence. As soon as Serap gets comfortable and accepts her new life, that is when she finds herself back in the real world, in another shoot. A different one from before, which I feel helps the ambiguity of whether all this really happened or not.

Overall, I think the moral of Aaahh Belinda is that Serap likes being who she is and doesn't intend to change herself, but living how the other half lived (so to speak) did teach her a few lessons, even if it wasn't the lifestyle for her.

While it has plenty to say, this isn't a dry and dusty movie. There's plenty to laugh at, and to amuse. These range from husband Hulusi's repeated attempts to get it on with his 'wife' (all of which end in irate slaps, or interruptions from kids wanting bedtime stories), to Serap's efforts to convince others of her situation, which immediately gets her committed to a mental institution.

The direction here is good. The film is shot in a very close-quarters way, but still manages to look good as a film.There are some excellently framed shots, and there's a level of effort here that means this/Belinda never resembles the soap operas it's imitating].

As with many of Yılmaz's films, this was made on a much lower budget than would have been ideal, but he always managed to craft stories around his means. So for as high concept as this movie can get, it never needs to get too flashy in a way that would spend millions of lira. If I had to pick a personal complaint I had with the film though, it'd be that it's not weird or fantastical enough. I don't see this as an actual problem with the movie, just a hangup for me. The plot is so normal that if you cut out the framing story you wouldn't even notice. If there'd been more of a fanciful streak throughout, I would've appreciated it more.

This is most evident in the ending, which people like to mention out of context. The heroine is transported back to the real world, wherein she is attacked by a giant bottle of shampoo! Sounds crazy, right? I can understand how a scene like this gets brought up as a highlight, but in context it is a bit random, and only at the very end, and there is a reasonable explanation, unfortunately. It's a shame, because if the movie embraced this side more often it would've lived up to my expectations for it.

The cast are all good here. Müjde Ar is a nice lead, and makes for a fun fish out of water. She's a little soppy near the end, but this isn't a huge deal. Macit Koper is funny as the masculine husband, who you'll feel like slapping sometimes, but is never too unlikeable. Yılmaz Zafer does well in his role too, though gets less to do as the movie goes on. The actor playing Naciye's father does a good job in his short screentime at the end.

The music in Belinda is fun. The main theme is a fittingly commercial jingle, while the remaining tracks all work well. The score does get a bit quiet at times, with many scenes playing over silence, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Only if the movie feels silent as a result] and this doesn't.

Aaahh Belinda is quite a good time. It's not for everyone, but I'm sure there's a wide audience it'll appeal to, and I found it worthwhile...

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