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"Separation leaves deep cuts in our lives"

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Ayhan Salar • Director


- Cineuropa met up with Ayhan Salar, the co-writer, co-director, co-producer and DoP on Verge, his first feature, which he shot with Erkan Tahhusoglu, to talk about what led to this lyrical debut

Ayhan Salar  • Director

Turkish filmmaker Ayhan Salar spent most of his life in Germany, where he studied Social and Cultural Sciences, Philosophy and Filmmaking at the University of the Arts in Bremen, before starting to work as a cinematographer and director. In 1990, he founded an independent production outfit, SalarfilmVerge [+see also:
film review
interview: Ayhan Salar
film profile
 is his joint feature debut, made with Erkan Tahhuşoğlu, on which he served as co-writer, co-director, co-producer and DoP. He is already working on his next project, Yar, as writer-director, producer and DoP. Cineuropa sat down with the director on the occasion of Verge’s premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival to discuss the making of his feature debut and the choices behind it.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to shoot a joint feature debut?
Ayhan Salar: It happened while we were working together on the script. At one point, we had no other option but to pull through together right to the end. We come from different backgrounds, and as artists, we have our own different paths. However, this was the right decision for Verge.

What was your first impulse for the story of Verge?
Nothing pains us so deeply as a separation from a beloved person, whether caused by death or departure. What happens if we cannot endure such a loss? Separation leaves deep cuts in our lives. 

The structure of the film is built on a certain duality, emphasised by frequent shots of mirrors. Why this duality? What other motifs were crucial to the narration?
The past is always present right now. Sometimes, we wear it like a backpack, in both a good and a bad way, because it means that we are not always alone – and that defined our approach. We are genetic and emotional copies of our parents, and we also carry fragments of our deceased ancestors. We all have those three voices within us, and maybe sometimes, they are trying to tell us something from the past, and vice-versa. All of this can be a mirror for our existence.

Since I have a background in the visual arts, one aspect caught my eye immediately when we started working on this story with Erkan Tahhuşoğlu. It was a widely used motif in paintings, a woman at the window... Dali, Caspar David Friedrich, Vermeer and many others made great paintings with this motif of women from all social strata looking out of the window. These old European paintings were made during the times when women mostly stayed at home and looked out from the inside, and their faces and what they were looking for were frequently concealed. However, loss, hope and sadness are always clearly perceivable, sometimes under bright lights, sometimes in darkness.

Before we began working on Verge, I was only aware of the external perspective. While walking the streets or driving a car, women staring out of windows grabbed my attention – women looking at life around them or at their children, or for someone they are waiting for, and this is a common image, especially in southern countries. If you look closely enough, you can see more. Sometimes you can sense loneliness, happiness, anxiety and sadness. But what about illness or psychological problems? We find plain but emotional portraits, and gain an insight only by looking through the eyes of women at windows.

Verge also tackles the topics of isolation and obsession. Does this serve as a metaphor for Turkey? Could Verge be regarded as an allegory of Turkey in light of recent events?
Sure, the atmosphere in a country always has an impact on the work of artists. We shot the film in Antakya, a city on Turkey’s border with Syria, where mostly people from the Arab minority live. And the war in Syria was always present for us, though we were not making a socio-political film. Our intention was to focus on the psychological side. In the Middle East, human beings are mostly devoted to the concept of fate, but a separation is such an emotionally profound disruption to our soul that it exposes us to so much pain. And sometimes, you don’t want to even admit that separation from a loved one. This aspect was in the foreground. Psychological topics are treated rather trivially in contemporary Turkish cinema.

The sound of vehicles from the street seems to be the only constant in the lives of both women. Why?
The street is one of the main actors in our film. Everybody lives with the road: the father is a car mechanic, the husband is a truck driver, and the grandfather was perhaps a bus driver. The noise and the smell are something the whole family has in common. But when you suffer from depression, it torments you, and it is ubiquitous. The negative emotional impact manifests itself in sound, as you think you are hearing things. Therefore, it was natural to use this narrative soundtrack to illustrate the characters’ emotions. 

Verge is shot at a slow pace but with a very observational style of camerawork, bringing to mind a noir film. What intentions were behind this hypnotising camera movement?
When you suffer from depression, everything seems like it is in slow motion and seems to repeat itself. The body becomes heavy, and every movement is laborious. That was the reason behind using this kind of cinematic language, to make this condition clearly perceptible to viewers.

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