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"I neither hate nor sympathise with the characters"

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Mehmet Can Mertoglu • Director

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- CANNES 2016: Young Turkish filmmaker Mehmet Can Mertoglu talks about his debut feature, Albüm, which was unveiled in competition at Critics’ Week

Mehmet Can Mertoglu • Director

At Cannes we caught up with young Turkish filmmaker Mehmet Can Mertoglu (27 years-old), who unveiled his debut feature film, Albüm [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Mehmet Can Mertoglu
film profile
]
, in competition at Critics’ Week of the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It’s a film that demonstrates great skill on a formal level along with very promising potential.

Cineuropa: What was the point of departure for Albüm?
Mehmet Can Mertoglu: I’m very interested in the writing of History and started thinking about the contradictions between oral accounts and stories that are written down. And the idea of exploring that through a couple adopting a child was something that appealed to me.

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Where exactly did the idea of this couple taking fake photos of the woman to make it look as if she’s pregnant when she isn’t come from?
First off, it intrigues me that photography is the most widely used way of representing things in the modern world. Personally, I hate posing for photos, but I grew up in a provincial town and as I studied in Istanbul, every time I went home, my family would ask me how it was all going. I still haven’t finished my university studies and somewhere along the line, I thought about taking a fake student photo. I didn’t do it, but it made me think. I also have a lot of friends who were adopted. These ideas came together and the film was the end result.

What about the relatively mysterious side of the reasons why the couple takes all these fake photos?
Indeed, I don’t say so explicitly in the film, but adoption is a big taboo in Turkey. In the film, it’s like like there’s an elephant in the room, but you can’t see it, it’s invisible. And when some of my adopted friends found out later in life that they were adopted, it was very difficult for them. Some of them weren’t able to get over the information and went off the rails somewhat. In Turkey, people unfortunately perceive adoption very negatively, and that weighs the film down.

The portrayal of the couple is very realistic, with the banality of their everyday lives, but there are surreal details. What were your exact intentions in this regard?
If anything, it’s to do with the way I see things. When I would go back home to my provincial town, I observed people, bureaucracy, etc., and at some point, even if these people were going about their business in a very mundane, genuine, real and everyday way, I started seeing it all in a way that you describe as surreal. For example, in the scene that takes place at the tax office, you wouldn’t actually find anyone asleep there like that, but the slow pace of the place makes me imagine that. Of course there are moments that are exaggerated, but really, it’s simply what I see in the mundane behaviour of everyday life.

The absurdity of life comes across very strongly in the film. To what extent did you want to go for that approach?
I neither hate nor sympathise with the characters. It’s linked to the cultural codes of the country and the problems faced by the middle class. For these people who really don’t have any hope and a lot of problems to sort out, there’s something depressing about their lives and that’s reflected to some extent in the film. 

The film paints a pretty brutal portrait of mankind, Turkish society, the atmosphere of hostility and racism.
That’s really what it’s like in Turkey, it’s no exaggeration. Racism is very deeply rooted in society, and we have a huge amount of racist proverbs, for example, even though Turkey was the heiress of the multicultural Ottoman Empire. I know it’s shocking, and it is for me too. The same goes for the insults. But no one calls it into question as they have other problems to deal with.

What were your intentions in terms of the direction, which is very sophisticated?
I’m first and foremost a film-lover, and don’t consider myself a film industry professional at all. And as a viewer, I don’t like it when directors try and force me to see something. I prefer using wide shots that give the viewer the freedom to explore what’s there in the foreground and in the background. I try to make sure that every frame contains its own little world, and to weave an invisible thread between the sequences. Finally, when it came to the settings, we did a lot of research and the locations we used are all real places that we kept as they were.

(Translated from French)

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