Umut (Yilmaz Güney & Serif Gören / Turkey, 1970):
(Hope)

Morning comes to the Turkish bowery, the street post is turned off, the cart driver (Yilmaz Güney) is roused as the curb-washing truck transverses the frame from background to foreground. His taxi is pulled by scrawny horses, his wife (Gülsen Alniaçik) laments the day she got married, his kids spend their time riding bicycles in a sandy construction site and get swatted afterwards. Workers rally for their rights, yet the protagonist’s lack of engagement dooms him to chimerical plans out of poverty: Lottery tickets, crime (fleetingly and unsuccessfully), the search for hidden gold. Güney started out as an action star who met tormentors with bullets; his Job-like figure here can’t shoot at social injustices, he carries an empty gun. He's forced to take the blame when a wealthy driver runs over his horse ("By leaving your cart alone, you attacked him," the police chief declares), the animal is carted away and dumped onto the battered plain in a long-shot memory of Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. When the creditors come knocking, he and his friend (Tuncel Kurtiz) try robbing a beefy foreigner (who wanders into the shot whistling "Oh, Susanna") and get beat up for their trouble; the old healer (Osman Alyanak) envisions a treasure buried between two trees, the men head out into the sun-blasted desert. Güney and Serif Gören jiggle the ethnographic scenario with eccentric angles closer to Killer of Sheep than to Pather Panchali -- the camera peeks through a well-fed businessman’s crystal babble as the protagonist pleads for work, later it is placed behind a sieve as dirt is shoveled through it. The desert journey, with its hard silhouettes and deepening craters, unleashes the surrealism lurking under the film’s crumby crust: "The treasure is running away," Güney exclaims as a snake slithers by. Güney’s angry irony leaves the hero dwarfed and sightless, spinning until the titular hope is indistinguishable from madness. With Kürsat Alniaçik, Enver Dönmez, Lüftü Engin, and Sema Engin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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