The moving pieces of Yesilcam collides in dreams that are made, pursued, broken and risen from the ashes. The sheen of the film world hides a desperation to be relevant, to remain important, to maintain one’s prestige, especially when threatened with social movements designed to change the face of the status quo. We see people who have clawed their way to the top and we see others who see the golden rays of what Art can mean to the masses. For some, it’s pure business devoid of emotion and for others it is what dreams are made of. Almost as though one needs a station master to coordinate the busy junction of competing interests and desires, Yesilcam comes alive through the characters on screen.
Falling From Grace
Mine, a survivor, made her bed with Reha, because climbing the ladder of her career was important for her to achieve financial security for herself and her brother. The daughter of a washer woman, her prospects in life are decided at birth unless she does something about it, and she does.
Trying to pacify Reha but knowing she has already lost She discards her true love for Semih as she doesn’t have faith in his career, and saunters over to greener pastures as the kept woman of Reha. Unable to stay away especially after Tulin enters the scene, she restarts an affair with Semih but when Reha discovers the truth, he begins to punish her by sidelining her in choice projects.
Mine, trying to curry favor with Izzet Mine is no fool and she understands how the doors are beginning to close on her face as Reha tries to recruit Tulin as a replacement starlet in his company. Mine turns on her charm for Izzet, and illustrates her keen nose for where the power base lies. She uses her sexuality as a weapon and dresses provocatively in her bold overtures towards these men of power. Like Belkis, she has the courage to go toe to toe with the men, fully understanding how to manipulate the misogynistic practices in Yesilcam.
Similarly, Semih is also shown to descend to his lowest point, out of money and options to keep going with his love for making a film. Jilted by Mine, he becomes listless and struggles to find a sense of vigor and purpose in continuing on his journey. What had seemed like a clever move to get two movies out of the price of one paid by Izzet, now feels like a robbery as the plan fails with the politics at the censor board. He feels he is out of options and makes moves to shut down his production company. In a pivotal scene at a corba (soup) restaurant, Semih’s low self-image emerges in a chat with the owner, who is a symbol of success as a result of ethical hard work. When asked what he does for a living, Semih says, “I am a thief… I steal from everyone.”
“I am a thief” Money & Ego
Money speaks and this proves most true in Yesilcam. Dark natured men like Izzet, Reha and Vehbi, strut around like peacocks because of their financial power or perceived importance. They treat others like sub-ordinates because of that power, and forget that they lack the innate talents to be a creator. This is unlike personalities like Semih Ates, Ayhan Isik, Tulin Saygi, Yilmaz Guney, Atif Yilmaz and others who choose to be an artiste so that they can create an impact through the world of art.
Menacing and hypocritical Izzet Izzet, who comes from money, has a dark personality that is the quintessential politician who has practiced the art of smooth language but who manipulates knowledge to their advantage with a vested agenda. While he targets the Greek population in Yesilcam with the help of the same man who threatens Semih with knowledge of his past, it is obvious that he remains committed to a path of ethnic cleansing initiated by his predecessors. Maybe Izzet is even responsible for Aysel’s death but apart from a strong insinuation, nothing more is done against him as there isn’t anyone to speak up for Aysel.
However, his money will only hold him in good stead for as long as his political pursuits have support. His Democrat Party fell out of favor with the military coup of 1961 and was dissolved, but due to sympathies with the party’s founding principles, neo-DP parties have persisted in Turkey until the mid 2000s. Izzet is a golden child in this realm of center right wing politics of the 1960s, at a time when there was a resurgence of trade union movement and the formation of the Workers Party of Turkey. How much power is he likely to yield down the road, regardless of his financial backing?
Reha & Vebhi Reha and Vehbi seem of a similar ilk. They are scrappers who wish to be relevant and only commands a following through a brute force of exploitative behavior. In that, they either exploit the people around them or take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way, by hook or by crook. They are mediocre at best but carry themselves with a pretentious sense of superiority. People like them can only rise up to a certain level and eventually get brought down by their own follies. As an example, once Reha’s wife discovers his affairs and pulls the rug on her family’s investments in his business, where will Mr. Reha go? When Vehbi loses Reha as his benefactor, where will he go? Innocence Of Flowers
In a sharp contrast to Mine, we see the idealistic Tulin who is taken aback by Semih’s continued affection for his ex-wife, and retreats into her shell. She is shown as being innocent in her pursuits but not naïve, having grown up with a promiscuous mother whose overt sexuality embarrasses her. Tulin’s clothing and mannerisms are graceful and conservative, and that is her charm in Yesilcam. She stands out with her dedication to her craft, especially against the women willing to use sexual favors to secure their future.
Seemingly at the end of his financial options and still unaware of Reha’s duplicity, Semih agrees to transfer Tulin to Reha’s production company against the promise that Reha will pay off Semih’s debts to Izzet. Tulin, believing that Semih is doing all this to get closer to Mine and bring her back into his fold, accepts Semih’s plans but she harbors an anger in her.
about:blank Tulin’s scene at the pub when she walks in and sees Semih look defeated is beautifully portrayed. Tulin is a woman who deeply believes in Semih and her disappointment lies in seeing him flounder aimlessly, failing to reach his potential. She is indignant that Semih still harbors feelings for Mine and her eyes have fire in them as she looks at him. Semih, unaware of the war that rages in Tulin’s heart, only thinks of his failure and his shame that he could not honor his promise to Tulin. He looks at her resignedly, accepting his defeat, and it angers her even more to see him give up his fight so easily. Some flowers, like Tulin, may look delicate and they are anything but whereas some, like Mine, stand proudly only to be left alone as her scent becomes stale.
Izzet has his eyes on Tulin, and as a sexual predator he is quick to judge that Tulin will gravitate towards a man who appears respectful towards a woman’s free will. He showers her with beautiful orchids, anonymously at first, and appears as the ‘savior’ in a situation where Tulin was being pressured by Reha to play a certain role in a certain way. It seems he knows what he is doing.
Upon Reha’s manipulation, who shows off a stack of cash to Semih, Semih believes that he is taking the best path to work for Reha in Adana and in exchange have Reha pay off the debt to Izzet. Izzet’s hypocrisy knows no bounds as he moves with the self-entitlement of a revered war lord, with his ostentatious clothing and manicured look. He reads the riot act to Semih when Semih confesses that he is unable to make Izzet’s movie due to the investment being locked up in another movie stuck at the censor board.
Izzet likens Yesilcam and its filmmakers as flowers that people will be drawn to look at, as opposed to looking at something as banal as couch grass. However, if the flower is rotten, then it is worse than the couch grass, and Izzet asserts that it is ‘crooks’ like Semih who make the flowers of Yesilcam look rotten. This is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black.
“Crooks like you make those flowers look rotten” Yesilcam is not meant to be an innocent place. Posturing, projecting, manipulating – these are all part of the game, but within this competitive cesspool there are people of conviction who believe in the power of art as a means to connect with and inspire humankind. People like Semih, Hakan, Uncle Costa are symbols of such people to whom art is supreme and everything else is a means to an end. One can argue that, at their core, they are hardy and even if they lack the superficial beauty of exotic flowers such as orchids, as the ‘couch grass’ they are the lifeblood of Yesilcam. Soulful people who tell the story for the love of a story and as such will outlive the orchid that is pretty for a season but will wither and die.
Who in Yesilcam is the flower and who is the herb (the title for this week, “Flowers & Herbs”), that is the question that gets answered as the characters evolve and rise to their life’s challenges.
Just as Semih prepares to make his exit from Yesilcam, he learns from Hakan about Mine’s affair with Reha and about Reha’s prior machinations with Mumtaz Bey in trying to get Semih out of Yesilcam. With a fire lit in him, he finds Reha in a public restaurant, and with no holds barred gives Reha a piece of his mind in a room full of people. He rises like a dragon and asserts that he is not going anywhere, and that he will rise on his own merit, unlike Reha who has been riding on his wife’s coattails.
Semih Ates will upset you big time What I found interesting is that after he learns the truth, Semih’s first instinct isn’t to demand an explanation from Mine for her betrayal. He even tells Reha that him sleeping with Mine is not the problem; his duplicity and hypocrisy while riding on other people’s money is the bigger problem. Once he understands how Reha has played him, his perceptions become crystal clear about what he needs to do. He will not be heading off to Adana, or anywhere else to be anyone’s second hand man. He will not trade Tulin as a property – she is a talent who came to his door and he will be the one to make her shine. He will not shut down his company; if need be he will remain a thorn in everyone’s side and prove that Semih Ates is here to stay. Final Remarks
There are so many subtle interconnected details in each episode, it is difficult to pack them all into one review. The well constructed layers are internally consistent, both in relation to historical events and to character design.
There is a scene at the beginning where Semih is in a room with a prostitute, looking haggard and apathetic as he drags himself from bed in the morning. As she lies provocatively, her naked breasts escaped from the covers, he remains unaffected, with his back turned towards her. Given the relatively moderate culture of the modern day Muslim majority Turkey, it is an interesting insight into the world of films of the 1960s, where Western influence permeated in fascinating ways. Many of the women we have seen in Yesilcam have used their sexuality as a means to make progress in a patriarchal system, and we see both the strengths and weaknesses of using the tact. With each generation, one hopes that the mothers pay the dues so that the daughters do not have to, and this is already true in the Turkish entertainment industry today. Women are at the helm of all possible roles in the dizi world, from producer, director, writer, actor and everything in between.
With the trailer for Episode 8, we see more moving pieces as Yesilcam evolves and we also see a liberated Semih who will fight for his place in this world. It promises to be a wonderful ride to watch him do so.
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