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Burak Çevik • Director of Belonging

“I was trying to discover something that only cinema can”


- We talked to Turkish director Burak Çevik about his Transilvania-screened second film, Belonging, inspired by true events

Burak Çevik  • Director of Belonging
(© Edze Ali)

In his second feature, Belonging [+see also:
film review
interview: Burak Çevik
film profile
, presented in the main competition at the Transilvania International Film FestivalBurak Çevik dives right into the murder of his own grandmother, masterminded 15 years ago by his aunt and her partner. Presented first via the dry testimony of a murderer, the film then morphs into a fictionalised account of a meet cute that quickly turns sour.

Cineuropa: In Belonging, you decided to talk about your family’s tragic history. Do you actually remember these events?
Burak Çevik:
 I was ten years old at the time, but I remember many things. It’s a personal story, but for a very long time, I didn’t think of it as my story, you know? Every family has experienced some kind of tragedy, and I was convinced that it hadn’t affected me at all. Then, two years ago, I got the investigation reports and realised that most of the places where these events took place are connected to my childhood somehow. I went to visit my grandmother’s home for the first time in years, and I just couldn’t go upstairs. That’s when I decided to make this film.

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At the beginning, we hear the testimony of your aunt’s partner. But why not hers?
When I started to write, I felt I was getting close to my aunt again. In the second part of the movie, which is fictionalised, I referred a lot to our shared memories – I wanted to have that male voice to balance it out. He committed the crime, so we are remembering it with him, in a way.

The only thing we really know about that night is that they met, had sex and talked. That’s it. I talked to my mother about my decision to make the film, but I didn’t get permission from my aunt or from her lover. When I was showing it in New York, some people asked me what happened next and if my aunt was still in prison. I didn’t answer. I believe that this is my story as much as my aunt’s, but I still have to respect her privacy. That being said, I shared every personal detail with my actors [Çağlar Yalçınkaya and Eylül Su Sapan], about my relationship with my aunt, and about what happened before and after. They knew all of it. 

It’s almost as if you made two separate films and put them together. At one point, your character says: “It’s a blessing not knowing what will happen.” But because of that structure, we do.
There is a difference between what the audience knows and what they see. They know what will happen, but they are witnessing a sweet encounter. So how do they feel about it? My friend told me that in the first part, my aunt and her lover come across as cold-blooded murderers, and in the second, we go: “Oh, how sweet they are.” This way, the audience can’t be too judgemental. They don’t know how to feel about this case. And also, I’ve always wanted to make a romantic film, set over the course of one night with two people talking. Just like Eric Rohmer.

Six years ago, I founded a film society in Istanbul and started to screen movies by Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas. I started to think about what cinema can be – it’s a simple question, but it’s difficult to answer. I wondered how I could play with the structure of storytelling. Many people tell me that after seeing my film, they are thirsty for any kind of clue. But I am not giving any, because I am not sure why they did it myself. She tried something similar with her previous boyfriends, so there was clearly this love-hate relationship between a mother and a daughter. But nobody really knows. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I structured it this way. 

In the second part, why did you decide to focus just on this first meeting? And not the actual crime?
This first night was enough for me, maybe because I wasn’t that interested in the actual deed itself – I was trying to discover something that maybe only cinema can. These are two lonely people, trying to survive in this country and in this family. They try to connect, but they can’t be sure whether or not they can trust each other. It’s something I feel, too, and I felt a bit sorry for this man. He is my grandmother’s murderer, but he is imprisoned by love and he can’t escape. I think he really believed in something, but I am not so sure about her. When I read his testimony and he mentioned this sense of “belonging”, it just felt so powerful. Because who do these characters really belong to? Do they belong to each other, or is it all just a game?

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