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Let There Be Light

(Turkish and Kurdish dialogue)

(Turkish and Kurdish dialogue)

This groundbreaking production is the first Turkish effort to directly address the ongoing conflict between government and Kurdish rebels, and it’s the first to put both lingos on an equal footing — something expressly forbidden by Istanbul until now. (In certain times and places, it’s been illegal even to speak Kurdish, let alone record it on film.) Hot-potato angle makes “Let There Be Light” a desirable fest item, although pic itself is probably too polemical and melodramatic to travel very far on its own terms.

Well-conceived story follows two military squadrons lost in the snow-covered mountains of eastern Turkey. One is a ragtag group of Kurdish guerrillas led by Seydo (Tarik Tarcan), a bearded firebrand who risks alienating the locals when he waylays a village bus and executes a young Kurd for working at a Turkish prison. This sends square-jawed Capt. Murat (Berhan Simsek) and his army regulars chasing after the rebels, who usually are able to outrun the young, well-dressed soldiers in the familiar, if brutal, terrain.

The cat-and-mouse game continues until shots precipitate an avalanche, and suddenly, the conflict is reduced to the two leaders and a female guerrilla who’s been badly hurt. Seydo continues with the woman on his back, but Murat eventually catches up with them in storm conditions so harsh they have to band together for survival. With one gun between them, there are several table-turning developments, allowing plenty of time for the two men to argue their convictions, which sound vaguely reasonable at all times.

One wonders if there could have been another level of complexity if helmer-scripter Reis Celik had allowed the female participant to speak (she remains unconscious throughout the adventure), but the vehicle is basically sound. By the time they end up at a deserted Kurdish village, with armies approaching from all sides, the metaphors become a little over-amplified. But given the nature of the situation there — and the lid that’s been kept clamped on it — this comes across as a very small problem. Same goes for skew toward government position: project could never have been made, let alone seen, without attempt to make government look at least partly reasonable — even if the oppression actually has been one-sided.

Technically, pic would have been more impressive with better dialogue recording — all that studio reverb when characters are traipsing through the whistling snow — and the big finish looks a bit slapdash. (There was considerable covert lensing.) Early segs however, marry bleak winter vistas with plaintive Arabic music to highly arresting effect.

Helmer, who also has worked as a journalist and photographer, has crammed a lot of political and social info into his spare, allegorical situation. As such, he could find his story outpaced by changing realities. Meanwhile, “Light” helps illuminate a corner of the world even its own inhabitants are afraid to see clearly.

Let There Be Light

(TURKISH)

Production: An Arzu Films production. (International sales: RH Politic Prods., Istanbul.) Produced by Ferdi Egilmez. Directed by Reis Celik. Screenplay by Cemal San, Celik.

Crew: Camera (color), Aytekin Cakmakci; editor, Ismail Kalkan; music, Mazlum Cimen. Reviewed on vidcassette, Vancouver, Oct. 11, 1997. (In Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Berhan Simsek, Tarik Tarcan, Sermin Karaali, Tuncel Kurtiz, Erdogan Serez, Oner Koybas, Meltem Simsek, Selahattin Gecgel, Kazim Conker.

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