Susuz Yaz is the first film to be released in the UK as part of the World Cinema Project, as founded and chaired by Martin Scorsese. Released in 1964 and directed by Metin Erksan, the film was immediately banned by Turkish authorities and was thus not enjoyed by the wider audience it deserved, despite winning the Golden Bear at the 14th Berlin Film Festival and the Biennale Award at the 29th Venice Film Festival. It has been a long time coming, but it is finally seeing a high definition official home video release.
The film charts the story of two brothers – Osman and Hasan Kocabas – who own a tobacco farm on which a water spring that serves a community is sourced. It is a drought summer, so Osman decides to dam the supply and keep the water for himself. Hasan opposes the idea, seeing the potential for arguments, starvation and unhappiness in the community. It’s the classic tale of conflict from within family, the choice of doing what’s right by the community or what’s right by your family.
There’s only one catch. Osman is a complete asshole.
Osman is a guy that is screwing over his neighbours solely for his own benefit. A guy that peeks through a crack in the wall to see his brother having sex with his wife. A guy that kills a man that tries to dismantle a dam that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, then forces his brother to take the blame. There are so many despicable acts as the story progresses and I don’t want to ruin them for you if you’re looking at watching this film. Just trust me that the character is up there with Nurse Ratched the great assholes of cinema list.
He’s part of a triangle of lead characters that drive the film forwards at a fantastic pace. The beautiful Hülya Koçyiğit is great as the oppressed housewife Bahar, whilst Erol Taş gives a great turn as the brother determined to do right by the community. Yet it is Ulvi Dogan as Osman that keeps us enthralled and captivated right to the end. He’s truly disgusting and pulls out every stop to make your skin crawl. At no point does Erksan attempt to court sympathy for him, which is refreshing to see nowadays.
The film comes in a box-set of three forgotten works of art along with an extensive booklet with short essays on the respective films. It’s a fantastic package that is similar in design to the recent Late Mizoguchi boxset, also from Masters of Cinema. The three films (this one plus Ahmed El Maanouni’s Trances and Ermek Shinarbaev’s Revenge) all have introductions from Martin Scorsese himself. Having not got to the other two discs yet, I can only comment on the Dry Summer disc. The five-minute introduction doesn’t really critically analyse the film and also offers no insight into it, though it is nice to see Mr Scorsese chat about something he’s clearly passionate about. Perhaps I’m just information hungry these days but I was certainly underwhelmed by the lack of bonus features. I guess the sheer fact that we get to see the film in any form is bonus enough and I can’t complain too much!
Delving into the Phil Coldiron essay into the booklet, we find out a small amount of info about the film and the context in which it is set, and it offers a perspective on why the film was so risque at the time that is found itself being banned. Certainly by today’s standards, the things I suspect it was banned for – the point of view upskirt shots of the desperately unhappy Bahar, the passionate sex scenes, etc – all seem very tame indeed. The more horrific scenes come in the form of animal cruelty and, later on, the fight scene between the brothers that is so convincingly acted out that it leaves the viewer feeling almost sympathetically exhausted for them.
All in all, if you have even a passing interest in the history of world cinema and want to support the great cause of film restoration then you should consider buying this release. I was nervous that it might stray from the high standards that have been set by the Masters of Cinema series but that just isn’t the case. It’s not a film I’ll be rushing back to watch again (I have two more from the same box first!), but I won’t be forgetting the great asshole Osman any time soon.
Martin Scorsese Presents World Cinema Project Volume One is released on Blu-ray and DVD dual format on 25th November 2013.