The review for Takva—first full-length feature by Turkish filmmaker Özer Kiziltan&mmdash;had barely been sent to edit when JWR sat down for a discussion with the helpful assistance of a translator. (Like everything else, subtitles are fine in the theatres but are of no use or value in the spontaneity of the real world.)
JWR: Congratulations on a wonderful film. How did you find your way to a project that digs so deeply into the power of the effects of unwavering belief?
ÖK: Over five years ago I was already working with the screenwriter (Onder Cakar). His story was very much influenced by his father’s life. Like the main character, Muharrem, he just wanted to be a good person through religion. The work is all his, although a few things changed as the details of casting [one potential actor died long before the cameras began to roll], sets and budget fell into place. As the director, I had some suggestions but the finished product is faithful to Onder’s script.
JWR: Including the “silent” gut-wrenching scream as Muharrem’s world collapses? Whose idea was that?
ÖK: [needing no translation this time and with a wry smile] Munch!
JWR: With so many prayer scenes—particularly the huge mosque in Istanbul—did you have any difficulty getting permission to film in those locations?
ÖK: For the smaller meetings near the seminary, we built everything on a set so had no problems there. For the Mosque, the Religious Secretary of State gave us permission so that was that. The most amazing thing came when Meray Ülgen [the actor who plays the Sheik—a veteran spiritual leader who knows how to fill the coffers and keep his parishioners in their place] arrived for Friday prayers, his costume and makeup were so believable that everyone kissed his ring, assuming him to be real. We never said a thing.
JWR: In my review, I’ve remarked on the reinforcement of your theme of devotion and penance with the business enterprise of selling burlap sacks (and hence sackcloth and ashes) as a possible discreet metaphor. Was that the case?
ÖK: There’s no correlation there. We did deliberately use the selling of sacks because in modern times, that’s the worst thing you can do in business, so that could only add to the orphan Muharrem’s, initially, dull existence working as an apprentice to a family friend entrusted with his care.
JWR: May I be bold and inquire as to your religious convictions?
ÖK: [chuckling] I’m an atheist. I made this film to show how religions drive people crazy. Leaders like the Sheik want impossible stuff from people.
JWR: Judging from the audience reaction, your message has been heard—there must be countless devotees around the world who can identify with Muharrem as he learns more than he wants to about the reality of being chosen to further God’s work. JWR