Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 21, 2009

Dry Summer

Filed under: Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 4:19 pm

Film buffs should check out the Auteurs website, which is still in beta. I am not that thrilled about them charging $5 to watch warhorses like Pulp Fiction but there is a section curated by Martin Scorsese under the rubric of World Cinema Foundation that has a handful of obscure and neglected classics that can be watched for free. There are only 4 there now but if current and future offerings are as compelling as “Dry Summer” (Susuz Yaz), a 1964 Turkish film, there is a lot to look forward to.

“Dry Summer” takes place in the Turkish countryside. The main characters are Osman, his younger brother Hasan, and Hasan’s bride Bahar. Osman has decided to irrigate his lands before the other villagers can get access to the water which emanates from a spring on his land. He reasons to himself that since the water belongs to him, he has the right to control it. Even though the movie was made nearly 50 years ago, it deals with an issue that cuts to the heart of Middle East politics today.

Throughout the marshes, the reed gatherers, standing on land they once floated over, cry out to visitors in a passing boat.

”Maaku mai!” they shout, holding up their rusty sickles. ”There is no water!”

The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Syria; a two-year drought; and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago. Some officials worry that it could soon be half of what it is now.

The shrinking of the Euphrates, a river so crucial to the birth of civilization that the Book of Revelation prophesied its drying up as a sign of the end times, has decimated farms along its banks, has left fishermen impoverished and has depleted riverside towns as farmers flee to the cities looking for work.

N.Y. Times, July 14, 2009

Hasan and Bahar warn Osman that blocking access to water will only lead to a “nasty situation” with the other farmers who live beneath them. He blusters that this is his decision to make and that he can handle any situation that comes his way with his ample supply of firearms.

Osman’s selfishness reminded me of the character Squarciò played by Yves Montand in Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Wide Blue Road”, a movie that is every bit as good as “Burn” or “Battle of Algiers”. Squarciò is an Italian fisherman who uses dynamite in clear violation of the law and the right of his brother fishermen to have equal access to the marine life that they rely on for their existence.

It takes a while to adjust to Osman’s cruelty and base nature since he comes across initially as a buffoon. But after he convinces his brother to take the rap for Osman’s murder of a villager who had blasted a hole in the dam on his property, and then afterwards forces himself sexually on Bahar when Hasan is in prison, you begin to hate him thoroughly. Unlike Squarciò, who is tormented by his decision to shaft the other fishermen, Osman is utterly remorseless.

Despite its obvious social and political concerns, “Dry Summer” is a movie with affinities with more psychologically-oriented and symbolist works such as those of Ingmar Bergman. In one of the more compelling scenes, Osman clings to a scarecrow in his field as if it was Bahar, pouring out his love. It is almost as if he were snuggling up with a life-sized inflatable doll as seen below:

Born in 1929, director Metin Erksan started out as a newspaper columnist before launching a career in film, helped along by his film director brother Cetin Karamanbey. The Auteur website provides this background information on Erksan:

With the advent of the social realist movement following the 1960 Coup d’Etat in Turkey, Erksan established himself as the “enfant prodige” of the post 60 era. Among the best films made during this period (including the Golden Bear Awarded Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer)) Erksan’s works occupy a central place. His films are the fruits of an eclectic mixture of modernist themes (i.e. individual loneliness), metaphysics (the fight of good vs evil), and notions of Marxism. As other “engagé” directors of the era who did not only see themselves as artists but also as “social engineers”, Erksan played a major role in the foundation of the Union of Turkish Film Workers and the Association of Turkish Filmmakers. He was also the Turkish Labour Party’s [Hoxhaite] candidate of Istanbul in the General Elections of 1965. But it is important to stress that Erksan’s films are primarily praised for their aesthetic maturity which coexisted (until 1965) with a firm social commitment.

Unfortunately, Erksan stopped making political films after 1965 and focused on mainstream entertainment, including a Turkish version of “The Exorcist”, a snippet of which can be seen below:

1 Comment »

  1. So for Chagnon this is the best way to understand the Yanomami. If this seems far-fetched, it must be understood that this is the core belief of sociobiology that finds expression in Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” (i.e., homo sapiens). Like Chagon who he acknowledges, Diamond views warfare as rooted in our genes—or perhaps man’s need to spread his genes.


    Or in a previous “generation” , _The Naked Ape_


    Comment by Charles — September 9, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

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