As a debut movie, White as Snow / Landlord

Sabahattin Ali is not forgotten… And neither are all the writers and poets who have been assassinated by anonymous killers because of their ideas and thoughts, which were mainly opposed to the politics of the government of their period, which had been flirting with a dangerous femme-fatale, nationalism or fascism.

In the eyes of the increasing supporters of that kind of affair from the right wing, Sabahattin Ali was also an antagonist and a threat. He was a “dirty communist” after all. So he was shot to kill during his attempt to escape from Turkey to Bulgaria in 1948. Later his killer confessed that he killed Sabahattin Ali. He was the man who was supposed to help Sabahattin Ali to pass through Bulgaria safely. He was convicted for 4 years. Years he never endured. Because he was free after several weeks. His freedom was due to general pardon. Later it was revealed that he worked for the National Security. There also were rumours that he had not been the real killer, but only took the crime upon himself.

Sabahattin Ali’s dead body was found near the Bulgarian border on 2nd of April 1948. Isn’t it ironic that we saw a movie based on one of his stories at The Sofia Film Festival 63 years later? Doesn’t this mean that after all Sabahattin Ali successfully crossed the border and all the attempts to stop him and his voice have failed?

White as Snow (Kar Beyaz)* is loosely based on one of Sabahattin Ali’s stories: Ayran. Ayran is a Turkish drink which is made of just water, yoghurt and salt. It is simple, but delicious, just like the movie itself.

In this situation, mentioning that the film is “loosely” adapted is a necessity, because Ayran is a short story which only occupies 5 or 6 pages of a book. But despite the new characters, extra additions to the story, change of time and location, White as Snow is still a successful adaptation. Because it manages to accomplish the most important task an adaptation requires. White as Snow transfers the very essence of the story to pellicule and reflects the right feeling to the screen.

In Ayran the story takes place during 1940s. In White as Snow, though it is not that obvious, the time is the early 1970s, during the second coup in Turkey. The location is the highland of North Black Sea. This is the story of a twelve-year old boy who has to walk miles every day in order to sell ayran by the main road, where a passenger van passes only two times a day. After his father goes to prison, the family falls into poverty and Hasan has to take care of his two little brothers, while their mother is away working. The focus is on Hasan but the film has many parallel stories in it – the father, the mother, an old man from another village, an engineer from the big city who feels unhappy about his assignment to this rural part and so on…

The director of the movie, Selim Gunes, is a photographer for 20 years now. The attitude caused by his profession can easily be seen in the movie. He prefers to tell his story with cinematography more than with words. He is aware that although both photography and cinema are similar story-telling vehicles, it can sometimes be dangerous to combine these two in a movie. Gunes makes his best not to leave border lines. We can say that he avoids the stability of photography. Yes, it is still a slow movie on main-stream standards and it is going to face difficulties selling tickets. But which festival film doesn’t? This is one of the inevitable results of making an art movie and is also a sign telling the audience: The film you are watching is not a product of consummation and wild capitalism.

So, despite its lack of cinematic feeling in some certain moments (the final, for example), as a debut movie White as Snow deserves our respect not only for its cinematography but also for its attitude. It is also this attitude that reminds us of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s and Semih Kaplanoglu’s movies. It is obvious that White as Snow walks the same path as these directors’ works. But when it comes to comparison we must say that Selim Gunes chooses a more conventional and traditional story line (Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Three Monkeys is only an exception in this comparison).

The songs used in the movie are really marvellous. You can watch it twice just to listen to its music again. The talented musician Mircan did a great job with her folklore songs which find their roots in North-east Turkey and Georgia. The film also received the Best Film Music Award of the 47th Antalya Film Festival in 2010.

*White as Snow (Kar Beyaz) was awarded the International Jury’s Special Prize of the 15th Sofia Film Festival.