The latest in a string of movies reflecting the government's Kurdish initiative has been hyped as the first comedy filmed in Turkish, Kurdish and English. But 'Ay Lav Yu' fails to deliver on any of its promises - as a celebration of diversity, an intelligent commentary on southeastern Turkey or a source of subtle humor
'Ay Lav Yu'
It has been refreshing to see Turkish cinema reflect the government’s initiative to increase cultural rights and freedom for Kurds. Last year’s Golden Orange awards, the Turkish equivalent of the Oscars, saw two films in Kurdish compete for the first time in the event’s 46-year history.
One of these films, “İki Dil Bir Bavul” (On the Way to School) was a semi-documentary following one year in the life of a hapless teacher in southeastern Turkey, trying to teach Turkish to little students in a Kurdish village. The ***** directed by Özgür Doğan and Orhan Eskiköy, attracted an audience of nearly 100,000 in two months, a surprisingly high figure for a documentary. The other Golden Orange contender, “Min Dit” (The Children of Diyarbakır), the tragic story of orphaned siblings, is set to be released in two weeks.
In another ambitious attempt, pop-singer-cum-director Mahsun Kırmızıgül followed the lives of members of a large Kurdish family as they were evicted from their villages during the most heated period of violence in the Southeast and tried to make new homes in Istanbul and Norway. “Güneşi Gördüm” (I Saw the Sun) not only attracted 3 million viewers, it also became Turkey’s official selection for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film race.
Shameless promotion of ‘firsts’
The latest in this string of films reflecting the government’s Kurdish initiative is a comedy now in theaters. Director/writer/leading actor Sermiyan Midyat’s debut feature, “Ay Lav Yu,” has been promoted to increasing anticipation for a year now.
“Ay Lav Yu” (how “I Love You” would be written in Turkish) is most ambitious in terms of its promotion. Various press releases have touted the film’s many “firsts”: “For the first time, a movie features the Turkish, Kurdish, Syriac and English languages”; “For the first time, George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden are shown together in a film”; “For the first time, the blend of different religions in a region has been talked about in a film”; “For the first time in a comedy with an international ensemble, Sept. 11 has become a subject.” The list goes on.
One of the first lessons I learned in marketing class was “Don’t be afraid to embellish, but never go over the top.” If your movie is not the greatest comedy in theaters, sentences like those written to promote “Ay Lav Yu” might just come back to haunt you.
Director Midyat plays İbrahim, the only person in a remote Kurdish village who is considered a citizen by the Turkish government. The village has never been recorded in the civil registry; neither have its inhabitants. Hence its name: Tinne, which means “nonexistent” in Kurdish. Viewers learn that in hopes of ensuring a better future for his son, and maybe the whole village, İbrahim’s father had left his newborn in the courtyard of a college, as opposed to the traditional place to leave an unwanted baby, the courtyard of the mosque.
Making light of prejudices
Priest Hanna (played by Muhammed Cangören, though the irony in the actor’s name was left out in the press releases) adopts him and İbrahim becomes the first person from the village to acquire official identification. The film begins when İbrahim returns to Tinne, having completed his university education. He has a surprise for his family and the other villagers: He is engaged to an American, a woman named Jessica, from Colorado. The film then turns into a slapstick sitcom about what happens when Jessica and her family visit the village.
American TV actress Katie Gill (who audiences might remember from guest spots on “Bones,” “The Mentalist” and “Scrubs”) plays Jessica, while Mariel Hemingway, Steve Guttenberg and soap actor Josh Folan play her family members. Though the movie sets out to break prejudices, its primitive jokes play on – and at times perpetuate – these stereotypes about cultural differences.
In one supposed joke, for instance, villagers wear the T-shirts Jessica’s parents have brought as gifts, innocently donning shirts reading “Kiss Me” or “Love Me” in a culture where even speaking to men could be a death verdict for women. The four languages spoken in – and boasted about in hype for – the film basically become the backbone of the movie, providing silly jokes about miscommunications.
In the end, though “Ay Lav Yu” claims to celebrate diversity, it becomes all the more dangerous for making light of it.