#688 Dry Summer
1964 // Turkey // Metin Erksan
Criterion Collection (LINK)
My knowledge on Turkish cinema is largely based on the two worldly renowned figures, the contemporary auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the veteran master Yilmaz Güney, apparently it’s far from comprehensive in the scope of time and quantity. So I’m particularly thankful for the restoration of the 1964 film Dry Summer by the World Cinema Foundation which offers a precious opportunity in displaying the rural Arab world onscreen. Directed by Metin Erksan and the winner of the Golden Bear at the 1964 Berlin International Festival, Dry Summer is first and foremost a melodrama evoked by the primitive lust and desire and the greediness for possession. The film has two brothers as the main characters, the macho and hefty older brother Osman (Erol Taş), and the decent yet submissive younger brother Hasan (Ulvi Doğan). They share a family land for tobacco farming in which a spring, located inside their property, provides the source of watering for their lands and their neighbours’ farm downstream.
One day Osman decided to build a dam to contain the water for their priority use while forbidding others from consuming their water freely. Even though Hasan strongly disagrees with Osman’s idea and the respective reasoning, Hasan has to obey simply because Osman is older. Meanwhile, Hasan marries his lover Bahar (Hülya Koçyiğit) and now all three of them live and farm together. When the tribal council proclaims the water is a public property but is later overruled by the court, the neighbors begin to take drastic measure on their own, yet the hot-tempered Osman is a strong-willed and unforgiving man, things soon get heated and escalated into chaos and gun play. At the end a man is killed and one of the brothers have to bear the consequences.
Osman, an unrepentant antagonist, represents the narrative thread of the film and as a result he is the driving force for all the conflicts of values indifference. He only concerns his own property rights and, after a specific condition occurred at the second half of the film, he lets his lust on Bahar gone wild. Osman would suck milk from a cow’s breast in front of Bahar or practice love proposal to a dressed-up scarecrow. The scene where Osman sucks the poison out of the snake-bitten wound of Bahar’s leg is explicitly sensual and erotic even be viewed on western standard, let alone by the relatively conservative world of Muslim. Yet morally, the film takes an indisputable stand on Hasan side as he’s presented as a generous and kind man towards his family and neighbors. Eventually Hasan and Bahar are the one to be tormented by Osman’s selfish and animistic acts.
The swift cinematography by Ali Uğur captures the earthy and sweaty Turkish rural world in the realm of realism. But instead of invoking social consciousness and empathy, it mainly dissects the obsessive egotism of masculinity. On the other hand, Hasan is served as a feedback mechanism against cruelty and dishonesty, and the spring of water beomes the place where sins are cleansed with death. The crisscrossing between the narrative thread and the moral thread produces a constant emotional tension throughout. Even though the characters are portrayed as clear-cutting archetype of good and evil, it’s still astonishing to watch such an explicit moral battle, and it could be an interesting juxtaposition to the existential and ambivalent films by Ceylan. Above all, Dry Summer is a apt place to start with on the underappreciated Turkish cinema.