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...

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