Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Kibar Feyzo (1978)

In a rural Turkish village, humble farmer Feyzo is trying to eke out a living, and make enough money to buy the dowry for his beloved Gülo. But the corruption that rules this town makes life impossible, despite his best efforts. Eventually his persistent non-compliance earns him an exile, but this proves to be a big mistake on the landlord's part, because Feyzo is exposed to big city life, and realises how things are supposed to be. Armed with this knowledge, he returns home to bring fairness back to his village, and reclaim his fiancee...

Kibar Feyzo (Polite Feyzo) is a comedy with a satirical edge to it. Helmed by auteur Atıf Yılmaz, it tells a story of village life in the east of Turkey, where feudalism still rules, thanks to the governance of town landlords (Ağa's), and the corruption that enables them.

The plot revolves around simple villager Feyzo and his efforts to get married, despite all the adversity he faces, thanks to specific people in charge, as well as the accepted rules of this small society in general. Feyzo and his beau Gülo are very much in love, but her dad quite literally refer to his daughter as property, acting like marrying her off is a business transaction. And if the suitor doesn't provide enough of a dowry, he won't sell his property. Hell of a change to the West, where the father pays the dory to the groom!

All of this might make Turkey of the 1970s seem hopelessly backwards, but the stark difference between the country and the city is outlined when Feyzo goes to the big city. He witnesses a wedding, and after asking, both the husband and father openly say the woman is her own person, and marriage is a simple matter of choice. Following this we see an enlightened Feyzo bringing modernity to his insular village and hoping he won't get killed for permissiveness and trying to change their set-in-stone ways.

The social commentary here is quite strong. In the wrong hands it could have come across impenetrable for foreign viewers, [who don't even know what an Ağa is]. But not only is it not difficult to understand, the film is actually a very helpful introduction to such issues for newcomers. There are a few lines that act as easter eggs or in-jokes for Turkish viewers (presumably those over the age of 50 at this stage!), but as with the best in-jokes, they're the kind you don't even notice if you don't get them.

Kibar Feyzo could have already been an effective commentary on Turkish issues no matter who directed it, but the fact that someone like Atif Yılmaz is behind it really hits the nail on the head. He tackles his favoured themes of feminism, and sexuality to a degree. The film also has a fun framing story, almost hitting the fourth wall.

The comedy here is entertaining enough. Simple in the best ways, with some well-done jokes, and quick dialogue. Some jokes might make locals laugh more than others, and it is a bit 'lowbrow' in places, but it's fine all round. Some of the more lowbrow moments contain some extremely satisfying punishments for the Ağa!

Feyzo is an endearing lead. A bit of a dope, but he's a goodhearted guy who tries his best. And his mind is clearly open to new ideas, and he's smart enough to know what to do with them too. He makes for a good father too, despite his absences in exile. Although there is one scene where he tries selling his baby that felt a bit much. Like he may be a bit dumb, but he's not heartless! Thankfully everyone in town acts appropriately to this.

Gülo is a sweet girl, and firmly on Feyzo's side. The romance in Kibar Feyzo is perhaps the biggest surprise! Given Kemal Sunal's unconventional appearance, he wouldn't always be paired with more attractive girls (although there are certainly plenty of exceptions to this rule). But here it's sweet just how into Feyzo Gülo is! At no point is she anything but totally devoted to him, even if he isn't a hunky bodybuilder.

Gülo's father is a money-grubbing knobhead, while her brother meanwhile is a more likeable dope. He goes along with his dad/society's orders,  although he's more willing to get along with Feyzo, and sticks up for him at times. Then there are the villains. Fellow villager Bilo is Feyzo's rival. Despite him not having the slightest shot at winning Gülo over, he still tries. But the main antagonist is village landlord Maho Ağa,

Feyzo's mother is an amusing presence. She tries exerting control, not approving of his marriage solely because of the cost, which she could instead use to buy an ox. She soon comes around though, and despite her henpecking edge, she really rallies behind her son. Although her cockblocking really isn't appreciated! The 'newly'weds are trying to make love. Leave them alone to get busy, and don't intrude!

Events progress very well after Feyzo's return from the city, with new ideas to galvanise the people into action. It's here where I wondered if the film was maybe stretching itself a bit. It seems like things are changing, only for the Ağa to round everybody up and beat into submission again. And so we've gotta sit through things building up again. None of it's bad of course, and with the film only running at a brisk 80 minutes it's never slow or tedious. But I did wonder if things could've come to a head sooner, or this moment been delayed till later.

The climax is satisfying when it comes, with the Ağa getting a suitable punishment. There is a bit of an abrupt ending, and the film ends on an ambiguous note, although I imagine things will work out fine. They'd bloody better after a whole movie of things not working out the hero's way!

The cast here is a good one! Kemal Sunal is an endearingly silly lead. Müjde Ar is pretty, and gets some cute moments, while Adile Naşit gives an amusingly batty performance. Şener Şen is a great villain, getting across the character's foibles perfectly, while Ilyas Salman has a decent role, though perhaps a bit small to be really good.

The music here is good, with a fun theme and other tracks. The assorted men and women of the village also act as a Greek chorus, singing their thoughts on whatever's going on with Feyzo and his beloved's struggle.

The setting here looks great, shot in a real village with old-school clay huts, and little hovels, as well as large farmlands. The costumes are varied and colourful, bringing a lot of vibrancy to this otherwise sandy yellow village.

Kibar Feyzo is a good film to check out, and shines a light on then-important social issues, and acts as a great historical artifact, as well as a more universal comedy...

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Tosun Paşa (1976)

In the occupied deserts of Egypt, two rival Ottoman families are feuding over who gets the lush Green Valley. They both get it in their heads to ask for the local magistrate's daughter Leyla's hand in marriage, but after a head injury, and a brainwave, the Tellioğulları family decides to make their clumsy butler Şaban pose as Tosun Pasha, a revered figure in the military. Will their plan succeed, or will something go wrong? Or how?...

Tosun Paşa is an entertaining Turkish comedy. In a way it's part of a loose trilogy, along with Süt Kardeşler and Şaban Oğlu Şaban. While none are connected, all three share the running theme of military and Ottoman life. One is about the navy, one the army, and this focuses on the Colonial side of the empire.

The film is a very funny portrayal of the local history. The comedy is pretty universal. There are misunderstandings, slapstick, and over-the-top characters, and it's all a hoot.

The story is simple but effective, and pretty much an excuse to let the various gags and situations play out.

I imagine the relation to the setting and the plot is no mistake either. I'm not sure when exactly this is supposed to be set, but if it's anywhere near the late 1880s, early 1900s, this whole conflict is immaterial anyway! These families are fighting so hard to get territory that's gonna be gone in only a few years time anyway when the Ottoman empire crumbles, and the Arabs take back control.

The film does a great job showing off Turkish culture, from their little habits and customs, to their various 'carnival' games, and of course hamams and Turkish oil wrestling! It's here where the film becomes incredibly homoerotic. I understand cultural differences, and in many ways the Turks (and Europeans in general) have a much healthier definition of masculinity than westerners. On the other hand they had to have known how it looks, and been playing it up for laughs!

The characters are a kooky and kinda unlikeable bunch, but in a harmless and funny way. The two families are Tellioğulları and Seferoğullarına, and no I'm not typing those in full again! The Tellio's are the leads, and are determined to get the land they see as rightfully theirs. After a Sefer-induced head injury results in their patriarch thinking their rivals are the bees knees, and butler Şaban is his father. One thing leads to another and they find themselves posing him as a high official and war hero. Sure enough, the power immediately goes to Şaban's head, and he begins scheming for himself.

If I had to pick a complaint though, it's that we don't really get much from the Sefer family. None are really characterised, nor do they get a lot of screentime. They're basically all the same.

Local mayor Daver Bey is a levelheaded, if slightly oblivious guy. He's fairly wise to the antics of these feuding families, but taken in like a dope by the fake Pasha. Then there's his daughter Leyla, who's a bit of a fickle girl, really! None of the men in this film really love her for her, only for what she can provide them. While she has a thing for a handsome young Sefer man, yet doesn't hesitate to cuddle up with what she thinks is Tosun Pasha, or the real one!

The real Tosun Pasha eventually shows up in the last act, biding his time under an alias to see what exactly's going on, and who's behind it.

This all culminates in a great free-for-all climax, with a big brawl. It does re-use a few jokes a touch, but is still funny, and there's plenty of great stuff. Like how the real Tosun Pasha notices Leyla and is instantly attracted, and they casually have a conversation while there's chaos around them.

The ending sees everyone getting their just desserts. Leyla has ended up with her best option, and the Green Valley is in good hands. And you can guess whose hands that's not...

The cast here is a high point. Kemal Sunal is a fun goofy lead, while Şener Şen is his usual shouty and grumpy self, rotating through various emotions, from fury, to desperation, and more. Some other Turkish regulars are here, like Adile Naşit and Ayşen Gruda, fun as usual. And Müjde Ar is gorgeous! The remainder of the cast is a good one, with some distinct looks.

If there is one oddity it's the complete lack of any Arabs (or at least, Turks playing Arabs). This is supposed to be Egypt, yet there are no Egyptians anywhere to be found, not as retainers, nor plotting sedition in the background. This is understandable since that's not what the movie's about, but it is odd for them to not even be here.

The film looks very good, with countless gorgeous costumes for the ladies, and snazzy suit and fez combos for the guys (so many fezes! A sea of them!), not to mention the tassles. The locations
a sense of DIY grandeur, which fits with the theme of the Turks just plopping themselves down in the middle of a desert, setting up a few stands, and calling it home.

The direction overall is really good, and the mixing of the dessert with these colourful costumes works really well. Regular actor Kartal Tibet is behind the camera, and proves his worth beyond acting once again.

Tosun Paşa is another Turkish comedy classic, and a fun time! Ideally it should be watched with English subs if they can be found, but even if you can't, as long as you're developing an interest you'll get the gist ok. It's funny regardless...

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Karışık Pizza (1998)

Ever since the internet popularity of their cult cinema, a lot of Turkish films get saddled with unofficial titles like Turkish Star Wars, Turkish Batman, etc. Most of the time these nicknames are well deserved, but the further they go on they get a bit more tenuous (Like how Turkish Jaws is an unrelated crime flick with half a minute of shark action). I was curious how the so-called Turkish Pulp Fiction would earn this title!...

A hapless pizza delivery boy arrives to his latest call, finding a gorgeous woman. He lingers too long and discovers she has a body in her bedroom! She pulls a gun and ties him up, and claims he is the killer when a criminal associate shows up. With his life hanging by a thread, can the poor guy escape, or will he be sliced like a pizza?...

Karışık (Mixed) Pizza is a late 90s crime flick with a quirky side. It's a fun thing to see from Turkey. How does it stack up as a film though? It's okay. It's nothing amazing, but it also wasn't bad, and does a few things well.

Despite being made so recently, this wasn't exactly a widespread film, and while I was able to find it, only in what appears to be a workprint, with a constant time-stamp, no credits, and an almost complete lack of music. There's also a version on youtube in better quality, but missing 20 minutes and having three watermarks. You just can't win sometimes, can ya! But short of searching the bargain bin racks in Turkey, or pirating a local TV signal of Kanal D, I guess this is it for now.

Pizza has a sudden beginning, and gets straight to the biscuits. The majority of the film is set in this apartment, and it does drag on a bit in this early section, before the flashbacks get going. It's quite light on dialogue in places too. The movie does manage to work despite its cramped setting, but I feel it was isolated for just a bit too long.

The story is simple on the face of it, but with added complexity, and a series of flashbacks. Not all of which really involve the main story. They allow us to know the mystery lady better, as well as the two crooks. Things do get a little confusing, especially if you haven't figured out who exactly is who yet, but for the most part it's not hard to figure out. Though I was still wondering a couple of things after the movie ended.

The protagonist is ostensibly the pizza guy. We never really get to know him normally, beyond his opening pep talk to a mirror. He spends most of the movie tied up, but does get a couple of moments where he almost escapes. Early on he tries climbing out the window, which is impressive and ballsy, though he was an idiot for trying, and even dumber for going back in. The least he could've done was stand behind the door with a vase!

I've read online summaries say he has fantasies where he's a tough guy against the crooks or saving the day, but this never happens. There are a couple of fantasies where he's in a different role, but when the lady is spinning a yarn to convince her buddy. Since he's otherwise tied up I think the movie could've actually benefited from more such scenes, and lived up to that inaccurate synopsis.

The mystery lady is the most important character. Sexy, crafty, and playing all sides against each-other, we're not quite sure who she is or what her motives are until the end. She's interesting to watch, and we can easily believe how she can wrap others around her little finger, as well as take her seriously as a threat.

Then there are two hitmen(?), one of whom starts out the movie as a corpse. In the flashbacks we see them enjoying their gangster life as they go around blasting rivals away, and planting clever bombs, while both putting the moves on their ladyfriend. Interestingly, if we compare this to Pulp Fiction, we actually see 'Jules's' reaction to 'Vincent' dying.

The last act culminates in an alright encounter. A little lacking in some ways, and I've got no idea why 'Jules' was shot when he was, but the telephone trick was fun! The pizza guy getting shot felt a bit pointless and mean-spirited, though he's ok, and we get an amusing police questioning, mirroring his earlier predicament. Poor guy can't catch a break! I didn't get him wiggling his tongue at the audience though! Cut that out, mate!

The action in Karışık Pizza doesn't disappoint. There are scenes where a single burst of violence is the climax, then we've got a manic shootout, followed by an impressive POV chase scene! You've gotta wonder how 'Jules' thinks he'll get away with openly chasing someone with a gun, and shooting him dead in public!

The movie's got a dark but goofy sense of humour too, like one gangster's sweary reaction to getting shot in the shower. The violence throughout is good too! I assume this was a low-budget production, but it gets around any limitations well.

And now we come to the most important area to discuss-Is Karışık Pizza really the Turkish Pulp Fiction? Not really, but kinda. It's not a copy of that film directly, though it shares a couple of visual choices, such as the two suited-up hitmen, one of whom has long hair (though neither are black, since this is Turkey)]. This feels more generally inspired by Tarantino's style. A quirky but violent tone, a non-linear narrative with a through-line, and scenes of talking punctuated by sudden violence. There were a lot of films in Tarantino's wake that tried and failed to emulate his style, and the lightning in a bottle that was Pulp Fiction. But while not a perfect film in its own right, Karışık Pizza does well, and seems to get Tarantino in a way a lot of these knock-offs didn't.

The direction in Karışık Pizza is one of its best qualities! There are some creative shots, nice framing, and the movie is filmed well despite its minimal setting. The action is shot well, and there's a great stunt in one scene, which I can only wonder how they accomplished. I looked up the director out of curiosity, to see how his career's gone, and it seems to be going pretty well. He's done a few music videos (some of which I've seen!), sports docos, and the new fantasy soap opera Shahmaran! That was a surprise. Here's an obscure Turkish pulp flick, helmed by the same guy behind a big Netflix release.

The acting is good. Olgun Şimşek performs what's either a thankless or easy role, and does well. And assuming it's him, I applaud him for his stuntwork! It's Meltem Cumbul who steals the show, with her sultry and dangerous role as the lady. The rest of the cast is fine, if overacting at times, including Cem Özer as a Jules/Vincent combo who resembles Turkish singer Barış Manço.

Karışık Pizza is an interesting little curio, and has its positives, especially if you're a Tarantino fan. There's a lot better out there to enjoy, even among Turkish crime, but it's worth checking out if you're interested...