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Anatolian Outlaw: Yilmaz Güney

September 17, 2011 - October 9, 2011

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Described by the critic J. Hoberman as “something like Clint Eastwood, James Dean, and Che Guevara combined,” the Turkish actor/filmmaker Yilmaz Güney lived a life more dramatic than any fictional role. The son of rural Kurdish sheepherders, he worked as a cotton picker, assistant butcher, and film projectionist before being awakened by the power of politics and cinema. His imprisonment for writing and distributing communist literature led to a chance acting role, one which later (after yet another jail term) improbably blossomed into a full-fledged career as a rugged, atypical leading man (earning him popular success and the nickname “the Ugly King”).

Güney became a director in the midsixties, creating a cinema that took key elements of Turkish and Kurdish outlaw folklore and merged them into a hypnotic blend of Italian and Hollywood Westerns, Third World cinema, and social realism. In 1974, however, he was arrested for the murder of a right-wing judge, and sentenced to eighteen years (his fourth imprisonment since 1961). Miraculously, he still managed to smuggle out screenplays and precise directing instructions for three new films.

In 1981 Güney escaped from jail, and eventually went to France, where Yol (codirected by Serif Gören) was declared a masterpiece at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, transforming Güney into an international celebrity and symbol of resistance. Turkey immediately made Güney persona non grata, however. In 1984, at the height of his powers, free at last but exiled from his homeland, Güney died of stomach cancer; he was only forty-seven. “A tragic note to an incandescent life,” wrote Kendal Nezan in Cinemaya, “one completely devoted to a refusal of the fatalistic, the oppressive, and the unjust.”

Jason Sanders, Film Notes Writer

Saturday, September 17, 2011
6:30 p.m. Hope
Yilmaz Güney, Serif Gören (Turkey, 1970). New 35mm Print! Introduced by Deniz Göktürk. A street vendor experiences hope, despair, and finally madness in this politically committed, neo-realist critique of Turkish society and class divides. “A magnificent achievement…defines for the first time Güney’s universe with startling clarity” (Derek Elley). (100 mins)

Saturday, September 17, 2011
8:45 p.m. Bride of the Earth
Yilmaz Güney (Turkey, 1968) New 35mm Print! Güney adds some baroque, almost Bosch-like touches to this tale of a man separated from his bride-to-be by superstition and feudalism. “Contains surprising moments of quiet lyricism that suggest Güney was becoming familiar with Satyajit Ray and Roberto Rossellini” (Senses of Cinema). (78 mins)

Saturday, September 24, 2011
6:30 p.m. Yol
Yilmaz Güney, Serif Gören (Turkey, 1982) New 35mm Print! Five Kurdish prisoners are set free for a week, but their return home only offers a different kind of entrapment, in Güney’s remarkable critique of political, religious, and sexual oppression. Palme d’Or, Cannes, 1982. (111 mins)

Saturday, September 24, 2011
8:40 p.m. The Friend
Yilmaz Güney (Turkey, 1974) New 35mm Print! Güney turns his gaze away from the struggling rural poor and toward the alienated urban rich in this scathing Antonioniesque indictment of the class boundaries and glass ceilings of contemporary Turkey. Güney stars as a still-committed activist who reunites with a now-rich, debauched old friend. (100 mins)

Thursday, September 29, 2011
7:00 p.m. The Hungry Wolves
Yilmaz Güney (Turkey, 1969) New 35mm Print! Sergio Leone meets Glauber Rocha in this “ethnographic Western” about a mountain bandit on the run in a violent, snow-bound world. Taut with raw poetry and documentary-like realism amidst the gun battles, and starring Güney at his most Clint Eastwood/Lee Marvinesque. (70 mins)

Saturday, October 1, 2011
6:00 p.m. The Herd
Yilmaz Güney (Turkey, 1978) New 35mm Print! Introduced by Özgür Yaren. The Herd has a simple premise that it utilizes to devastating effect: the economic survival of a Kurdish family depends on its herd of sheep. The constant threats to the livestock and the family serve both as ethnographic documentary and existential (and political) parable. (129 mins)

Saturday, October 1, 2011
8:45 p.m. Elegy
Yilmaz Güney (Turkey, 1971) New 35mm Print! A group of smugglers keeps one step ahead of the police in Güney’s tough Turkish Western, part Wild Bunch, part “hymn to. . . the freedom from oppression” (Fernando Herrero). Güney’s elemental combination of Hollywood action and Third World activist cinema is hypnotic. (80 mins)

Sunday, October 9, 2011
5:35 p.m. The Poor
Yilmaz Güney (Turkey, 1974). (Zavallilar) New 35mm Print! On a winter’s night, three convicts are released from jail. A fascinating mix of hard-bitten realism and florid melodrama. (72 mins)

Coordinated at BAM/PFA by Kathy Geritz. Special thanks to Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism; Turkish Culture and Tourism Counselor’s Office, Washington DC; Hüseyin Karabey, the Güney Foundation; Erju Ackman, Turkish Cinema Newsletter; and Deniz Göktürk, UC Berkeley, for their invaluable assistance in making this series possible. The series features new 35mm prints, provided by Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, General Directorate of Copyright and Cinema, Telif Hakları ve Sinema Genel Müdürlüğü.