How do you sell a film about religion in a country that is defined by its secular constitution? That was the central challenge facing the makers of Turkish pic “Takva” (A Man’s Fear of God).
Pic, bowing in Berlin’s Panorama section, tells the story of Muharrem, a devout Muslim who has lived quietly in the same Istanbul neighborhood all his life. His devotion to his faith attracts the attentions of a religious group’s members who, trusting his piety, offer him a job as their rent collector. The ensuing temptations of the modern world prove too much for Muharrem, and he soon begins to question himself and his relationship with God.
Although it doesn’t sound much like easy viewing, the film has proved a smash in Turkey, winning nine awards at the Antalya Golden Orange Film Fest, including best actor for Erkan Can. It even outgrossed “Borat” and “Casino Royale” in its first week of release.
“We thought it would be very provocative in Turkey, especially because it shows the difference between the modern, worldly Turkey and the strong rituals of conservative Muslims. We’re very surprised, and happy, that the audience and critics have responded to the film the way they have,” says producer Klaus Maeck of Corazon Intl., the German shingle that co-funded the pic along with Turkish shingle Yeni Sinemacilar.
In fact, Corazon’s involvement with the project was crucial to it getting made. With a modest budget of E1.2 million ($1.6 million), the Turkish side had managed to raise 80% of finance. It was the friendship between Onder Cakar, who penned the screenplay, and Corazon’s Fatih Akin, who helmed 2004 Golden Bear winner “Head-On,” that saw the German shingle come onboard after Akin loved his pal’s script. Corazon brought with it the crucial final coin from funding body Eurimages as well as the Hamburg Film Fund.
Pic is proving something of a watershed for Turkish cinema, with its complex depiction of religion’s role in Turkish society.
The modern Turkish state was founded in 1923 by Kemal Ataturk, who abolished religious laws and replaced them with secular civil institutions.
Current Turkish Prime Minister Racep Tayyip Erdogan initially was banned from taking office in 2002 due to a criminal record after he was arrested in 1998 for reading an Islamic poem in public.
Erdogan has since distanced himself from his previous, more hardline Islamic views, but the episode, along with the ongoing debate over Turkey’s accession to the EU, once more underlined the strength of the debate over whether the country should look East or West.
“It’s a very delicate subject for Turkey. It takes a lot of courage to make a film like ‘Takva’ in Turkey. Its success has exceeded expectations,” says Antalys’ international relations director, Esra Even.
This makes its bow in Berlin all the more eagerly anticipated, particularly for its producers.
“If Berlin is showing an interest in new Turkish cinema like ‘Takva,’ it will help to spread Turkish films in Germany and internationally,” says Corazon’s Maeck.