Times And Winds (Bes Vakit)
Turkey (2006) Dir. Reha Erdem
Sigmund Freud first introduced the theory of the Oedipus Complex in 1899, coining the actual phrase eleven years later. Based on a character from Greek Mythology who killed his father and married his mother, it’s hard to imagine it would exist in the “real world” to such an extreme level but Turkish director Reha Erdem is keen to ponder otherwise…
The setting is a small village high in the mountains of North East Turkey overlooking the sea where signs of modern life are all but non-existent and everyone lives within their hidebound bucolic means. It is through the eyes of three youngsters – Ömer (Özkan Özen), Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali) and Yildiz (Elit Iscan) – that we witness how the mores and traditions of these simple folk both shape and hinder future generations.
Ömer is upset his father, the village Imam (Bülent Emin Yarar), openly favours his younger brother Ali (Utku Baris Sarma) leading him to dream about killing his father. Yakup meanwhile sympathises with his father Zekeriya (Taner Birsel) for being the last favourite son of his grandfather (Cüneyt Türel). Finally, Yildiz is worked like a slave by her mother (Nihan Aslı Elmas) since the arrival of her newborn baby brother.
Cultural differences will prove either fascinating or baffling, but will always galvanise an opinion one way or the other. It is what makes world cinema such a rich source of eye-opening and rewarding journeys for those of us willing to jump onboard and Times And Winds exemplifies this.
Admittedly, Reha Erdem doesn’t offer the easiest narrative to follow – in that there isn’t one – and much of the meaning of the story along with many of the enigmatic and poetic visuals remains elusive. For instance, throughout the film we see the featured children laying amongst the grass in an enchantingly composed tableau but are they sleeping or are they dead?
Such symbolism will be open to interpretation – I saw it is the village being the death of the kids, the weeds growing around their catatonic bodies enveloping them in a rather possessive way – if audiences can look past their randomness, and not just dismiss them as more arcane nonsense. It’s a temptation I am sure, though the film isn’t so dense and obtuse we can’t forge some understanding of the situations.
It does take a while to get into a groove and figure out who is who, since there is quite a uniformed look through dress or appearance – i.e. thick moustaches or beards for the men and headscarves for the women. Even the boys look similar too. It is established early on Ömer and Yakup are friends whilst Yildiz is a school friend of theirs, whilst an orphan shepherd boy beaten by his guardian (claiming he is being fatherly) is a regular third party for the boys.
Equally alarming is how violence towards the children seems so ingrained in the village’s culture, with a girl arriving at school with a black eye and a boy with his hand in a cast, courtesy of the parents like it was normal. It also appears the favouritism by a parent towards one of their children is commonplace but more of a cultural tradition than a sad state of affairs, which brings us back to the Oedipus Complex referred to earlier.
That it incurs the hatred of the ignored child is something oblivious to the discriminatory parent but the saddest part is how lessons are not learned from this. Yakup witnesses his father being humiliated by his cantankerous grandfather, who has given land to both his sons and demands they cultivate it to his lofty standards, for which Zekeriya has no interest or natural aptitude for.
Yakup is lucky Zekeriya doesn’t begrudge his son anything but their bond is shattered when Yakup, whose mother is about to have another baby, spots is father leering at the Yakup’s pretty young teacher (Selma Ergeç), on whom Yakup has a massive crush. This now makes three parent-child relationships broken, with Ömer plotting his father’s death – setting the wheels in motion by tampering with his medication – and Yildiz’s plight as the family slave.
Hers is the least dramatic of the three scenarios thus the most understated. The twist of the mother being the offending parent comes with a caveat in that she has just given birth and needs help around the house, except this extends to caring for the baby too when Yildiz has her studies. The pivotal moment comes when the precocious daughter hears her parents making child number three and sees her workload increasing even more, though patricide isn’t her initial response.
No doubt reading of the juvenile murderous intent conjures up images of a brutally dark descent into tragedy created by the ignorance of rural indoctrination and absence of worldly finesse. But Erdem is an arty filmmaker prone to leaving very thin gaps between the lines of what he narrates and what we are supposed to read into them. As suggested earlier, there is less a direct structure to the narrative and more a steady flow of events to illustrate the diegesis in which they occur.
Even if we come away from this understanding little of what happens, Erdem gives us enough to view this world in a kind of wonder regardless of the moral disparity we may find compared to our own. There is no judgement in the tone, that is up to the audience and that will differ based on location which makes this fascinating to watch and equally appalling to register.
When Lisa Simpson once said of jazz “You have to listen the notes not being played” she may have well been describing Times And Winds for many. However, it is gorgeously shot, wonderfully acted, compelling in its naturalism and ironic whimsy, and provocative in its subject matter that is hefty enough, if perhaps unresolved, to carry it far enough to be considered a worthy watch.