Ahorn | Sunday April 23rd, 2017
“We celebrate and morn at the same time.”
Given recent events in Turkey, DIL LEYLA Asli Özarslan’s debut film, appears at a very significant time. I had never heard of it’s subject, Leyla Imret, and in fact all of the Google hits for her were in Turkish, but from her history, it’s pretty easy to see why she would be of interest to the filmmaker. Elected at 26, she was the youngest mayor of the Kurdish city of Cizre and also the first woman, but seeing her in the opening sequences of the movie, even cynical old me could grasp a sincere, almost motherly aspect that I found warm and comforting. Most uniquely, she comes off less a politician than someone who genuinely wants to try and make a good home for everyone.
The film begins contrasting a New Year’s celebration in 2015 with one in 1993 where the people of Cizre were attacked by armored vehicles of the national police. A couple of years before that, Leyla’s father, a long term Kurdish resistance fighter, was killed in a police shootout and she was sent to Germany to grow up in safety, knowing nothing about her family history until years later she googled her name and it all came out.
Presiding as mayor over the New Year’s festivities in 2015, the mood is definitely one of peace and hope, and under her new administration, of rebuilding. It all comes together in that year’s Parliamentary vote where the Kurds win representation for the first time. And it’s also the point where it all unravels – Parliament is unable to form a government and ensuing events lead to the violence starting all over again. Being an outsider, I never really understood the amount of money, energy and blood being spent on the conflict between the government of Turkey and the Kurds, and if anything the futility of it all seems to underlie all the events.
Leyla as mayor stands up for her city in the face of a government order removing her from office. A warrant for her arrest is issued, accusing her of inciting violence for describing the conflict in an interview with a British journalist as civil war. Though formal charges were eventually dropped, Leyla remained under attack and to date she is still in hiding.
At the beginning of the film, neither the town, nor Leyla, nor even the filmmaker – who must have had a very different vision for her film – had any idea what was going to happen. It occurred to me later that the very thing that made the drama of the story – and elevated the film to a whole other level – came at the expense of her subject, and the people of Cizre, never mind Turkey itself. A horrible irony that is certainly not exclusive to this particular film. To her credit, the filmmaker was able to stand back and let the story unfold in a way that was unsentimental but genuinely moving. As an old woman in the 2015 festivities put it “we celebrate and morn at the same time”.
Andrew Horn, Berlin-based filmmaker (The Nomi Song, We Are Twisted Fucking Sister!, The Big Blue), producer (East Side Story) and writer, is on the look out for interesting – and not so interesting – movies at this year’s edition of Achtung Berlin – new berlin film award.
Films from past editions of the festival can be found in the Achtung Berlin channel on realeyz.de