Family Dysfunction Meets Deathbed Wish in Houston's Turkish Film Festival

Family dysfunction is a universal theme: there's always one sibling who outshines the others, one who finds a suitable mate, and an underachiever who can't crawl out of slackerdom. But look behind the facade of even the most successful families and it's obvious that just about everybody is dysfunctional in his or her own way.

In Butterflies (Kelebekler), one of the films screening during this year's Turkish Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the shining star is Cemal, an astronaut bitter about the state of the German space program. His sister, Suzan, has a good job as a kindergarten teacher but can't stop crying because her marriage is in shambles. And struggling actor Kenan dubs cat videos for a living. LOL much?

None of the siblings have stayed in touch over the past 30 years and, when they each receive a mysterious message from their ailing father, they rush to their hometown only to discover dad has already died. Manipulative even in death, their father's dying wish is that he be buried "when the butterflies die," forcing the trio to rediscover each other as they wait for that one magical time of the year.

Butterflies, the third feature film for Director Tolga Karaçelik, won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival. "I would say it’s edgy," says Marian Luntz, the museum’s film and video curator. "And my colleague in Washington at the DC Turkish Festival said this was the real crowd pleaser.

"There are touches of what I would call magical realism and dark humor. It’s rather surprising and enigmatic. You don’t quite know where the story is leading and it’s quite charming at the end as a story but you have to get through some other baggage to get to the end," adds Luntz.

The Turkish Film Festival runs just one weekend at MFAH and has a solid mix of films in its line-up. Luntz also has invited several filmmakers who are in the process of obtaining travel visas. If they can cut through the red tape, filmgoers will be able to meet Fikret Reyhan, writer/director of Yellow Heat (Sari sicak), and Su Baloglu and Merve Bozcu, directors of Her First (Onun Filmi). Plan B is that the filmmakers will answer questions via Skype.

The festival's opening night film is Her First, making its American premiere in an evening that includes a reception and welcoming remarks from Luntz and Akil Oktem, consul general of Turkey, followed by a Q&A. "I'm particularly excited because of all of the focus on celebrating women in filmmaking, more recently with the #MeToo movement. Su and Merve, the two filmmakers, were in the academic world but they decided to really survey what was happening with films by women in Turkey so they traveled the whole country and they interviewed women and we learn a bit about the history of women filmmaking in Turkey."

Sour Apples, about a small town mayor protective of his three beautiful daughters, screens at 5 p.m. October 13.
Sour Apples, about a small town mayor protective of his three beautiful daughters, screens at 5 p.m. October 13.
Film still courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Everybody loves a period drama with costumes, and Luntz points to Sour Apples (Eksi elmalar) to fill the bill in this story written, directed and starring Yilmaz Erdogan about a small town mayor with three beautiful daughters. But time — and fashion — march on with political crises and the iconic garb of the '70s, '80s and '90s.

Truth is often stranger than fiction and Ayla: The Daughter of War is based on a true story about a Korean orphan adopted by a Turkish soldier. "[It's] a fascinating story that took place during the Korean War in the 1950s. Turkey sent a regiment of soldiers to help South Korea and the United States fight North Korea," says Luntz, adding that the girl who portrays Ayla is "adorable."

The end of the film includes a documentary segment showing a reunion with the actual characters that the movie is based upon. "It's very heartwarming how they saved this little girl," says Luntz. "I‘m sure the story is romanticized; it's never as easy as it appears to be. It’s how they bond."

Ayla: The Daughter of War screens at 1 p.m. October 14 and will be introduced by Akil Öktem, Consul General of Turkey, and Kim Hyung Gil, Consul General of the Republic of Korea.
Ayla: The Daughter of War screens at 1 p.m. October 14 and will be introduced by Akil Öktem, Consul General of Turkey, and Kim Hyung Gil, Consul General of the Republic of Korea.
Film still courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

She says the Turkish Film Festival appeals to families who want to introduce their children to other cultures, to local Turkish and Turkish-American communities, and to the filmgoing public in general. "There are people who are just film lovers in town so I really encourage anyone who is interested in learning about other countries through the cinema to come and experience the films," adds Luntz.

The Turkish Film Festival is scheduled for 7 p.m. October 12; 2, 5 and 7:30 p.m. October 13; 1 and 5 p.m. October 14; in Turkish with English subtitles, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; 1001 Bissonnet; 713-639-7300; mfah.org/calendar/series/turkish-film-festival; $8 to $10.

2018 Turkish Film Festival schedule:

Her First (Onun Filmi), directed by Merve Bozcu and Su Baloglu, 7 p.m. October 12
Butterflies (Kelebekler), directed by Tolga Karaçelik, 2 p.m. October 13
Sour Apples (Eksi elmalar), directed by Yilmaz Erdogan, 5 p.m. October 13
Yellow Heat (Sari sicak), directed by Fikret Reyhan, 7:30 p.m. October 13
Ayla: The Daughter of War, directed by Can Ulkay, 1 p.m. October 14
The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat agaci), directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 5 p.m. October 14

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