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Review: Men on the Bridge

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Blurring borders


- After winning Best Film awards at the Istanbul and Adana festivals, the debut feature of Turkish director Asli Ozge went on to Locarno, Toronto, Sarajevo, Montpellier and Linz

Review: Men on the Bridge

The debut feature of Turkish director Asli Ozge, Men on the Bridge [+see also:
film focus
interview: Asli Özge
film profile
, can be billed as docu-drama or “staged reality”, which is understandable seeing as how an early cut participated in the Rough Cut Pitching programme of the 2008 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, after which producers Fabian Massah of Berlin-based Endorphine Productions and Sevil Demirci of Istanbul’s Yeni Sinemacilik found their third partner, Mete Gumurhan, and his Rotterdam-based Kaliber Film.

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But none of the above descriptions do justice to a film that blurs the lines between documentary and fiction by having its characters play themselves. Nothing revolutionary, of course, but very refreshing and effective for a story about people living around and off of the Bosphorus Bridge. Umut is a 28-year old driver of a shared taxi, who crosses the bridge every day. He has constant money problems that take their toll on his marriage, as his wife tirelessly chases a better living arrangement. Fikret (17) illegally sells roses on the bridge while unsuccessfully looking for a regular job. He and his companions get scolded by 24-year old traffic policeman Murat, who spends most of his free time looking for a girlfriend in Internet chats. As the Turkish law prohibits filming police officers, Murat is played by his brother and other members of the law enforcement by professional actors.

Men on the Bridge has one thing in common with a number of recent Turkish films, and especially with Pelin Esmer’s 10 to 11 [+see also:
film review
film profile
: transition and a yearning for the Western way of life. This is particularly symbolised by the Bosphorus Bridge, a crossing between Europe and Asia. One could interpret the blurred border between fiction and reality in the film’s very fabric as a metaphor for the differences between Eastern and the Western ways of thinking.

All three characters live in Istanbul’s suburbs and strive for a piece of the life advertised by soap operas and Hollywood films. Be it financial, professional or emotional fulfilment, Umut, Fikret and Murat feel they lack something to be complete as human beings. It’s easy to imagine them in each other’s roles. If Murat had a girlfriend he’d probably want a more satisfying job than that of a traffic cop. If Umut had a better-paid profession, he wouldn’t have any problems with his shoe-hunting wife. And Fikret definitely needs both a job and a relationship.

Ozge shows remarkable control for a first-time feature director, particularly with such delicate material. The characters are appropriately natural but never come across as amateurs. The film seems more like a careful and successful construction than an experiment.

The director has exercised considerable skill in letting the characters play exactly as much as they’re able to, thus avoiding the main trap of using non-professional actors. One gets the feeling that they’re very comfortable in their roles, and are simply playing themselves.

After winning Best Film awards at the Istanbul and Adana festivals, Men on the Bridge went on to Locarno, Toronto, Sarajevo, Montpellier and Linz. The German release is set for July 22 and the Best Film Award from the London Turkish Film Festival will provide it with distribution in the autumn in UK and Ireland, one of the hardest markets to penetrate, along with Netherlands, Austria and other territories.


international title: Men on the Bridge
original title: Köprüdekiler
country: Germany, Netherlands, Turkey
year: 2009
directed by: Asli Özge
screenplay: Asli Özge
cast: Fikret Portakal, Murat Tokgöz, Umut Ilker, Cemile Ilker

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