Based on a novel by Nahid Sırrı Örik, KISKANMAK (ENVY) is a powerful depiction of the ways in which people's lives are hemmed in by class, gender and emotional preoccupations.
I cannot comment on the adaptation's relationship to the source- text, but as it stands Zeki Demirkubuz's film, although set in the early Thirties, offers a powerful comment on inequalities within contemporary Turkey.
The action opens at a celebration in the Black Sea town of Zonguldak. Couples dance idly round the floor until the band-leader calls them to order and invites everyone to sing the National Anthem in praise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The action takes place only seven years after the Republic was established in 1923; and we are reminded once more of the principles upon which it was founded - equality, fairness, and opportunity.
Unfortunately what follows completely subverts that impression. Mine-owner's wife Mükerrem (Berrak Tüzünataç) leads an aimless existence dominated by tea-parties and social occasions. Sharing her house with her husband Halit (Serhat Tutumluer), and her sister- in- law Seniha (Nergis Öztürk), she orders her servants to wait upon her hand and foot. Eventually Mükerrem falls in love with Nüshet (Bora Cengiz), the youthful son of a local society family; together they spend clandestine evenings together, while Halit apparently remains oblivious.
Mükerrem's actions enrage Seniha, who hitherto has enjoyed a close relationship with Halit's wife. Seniha ends up taking a decision that ultimately leads to the destruction of all three protagonists.
Shot in washed-out colors, with the lighting focused deliberately on the characters' faces, Demirkubuz's film creates a self-enclosed world in which outward show matters: preserving one's honor counts above everything else. Within this world women are kept as virtual prisoners: the film is full of repeated shots of them either looking out of the window from inside, or photographed inside their houses from the outside. The sense of imprisonment is enhanced by repeated close-ups of lattices, grilles and covered lights.
The idea of female confinement is nothing new; it is characteristic of any patriarchal society in which men like Halit come home from work expecting their dinner, and prepare for business trips by having their suitcases packed for them. As portrayed by Tutumluer, Halit is a very passive person, despite his apparent power: everyone, it seems, is prepared to do all his work for him.
What gives Demirkubuz's film added bite is the way he shows the characters experiencing emotional as well as physical imprisonment. Neither Mükerrem nor Seniha can see beyond their limited field of self-interest; and hence destroy themselves as well as those closest to them. In a highly socially stratified society, they have been brought up to observe certain mores; and when these mores have been traduced, they have no means of coping. Their reactions are almost childlike, but entirely coherent in a society whose inhabitants are almost entirely prevented from thinking for themselves.
KISKANMAK is a domestic tale but carries substantial political undertones. In any world that curtails self-determination, few people can survive for very long. The film ends with Seniha photographed alone on a cruise-ship, biting into a sandwich and admitting her faults in voice-over. While understanding that she has acquired self- knowledge, we hardly feel sympathetic towards her, in light of what has previously taken place.
The mood of melancholy is cleverly underlined by the use of a musical leitmotif from Albinioni. KISKANMAK is a mournful yet memorable piece of work.