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BERLINALE 2024 Generation

Aslı Özarslan • Director of Elbow

“There is this young generation looking for answers and reclaiming their power; I have hope for them”


- BERLINALE 2024: A young runaway learns some harsh truths, and breaks free, in this film based on the novel by Fatma Aydemir

Aslı Özarslan • Director of Elbow

Based on the novel by Fatma Aydemir, Elbow [+see also:
film review
interview: Aslı Özarslan
film profile
introduces us to Hazal (Melia Kara). She can’t get a job, and she can’t get a break – she shouldn’t dream too big, everyone says. On her 18th birthday, a bouncer refuses to let her and her friends into a club. It turns out to be the one rejection that pushes her over the edge. Soon, Hazal is fleeing Berlin for Istanbul in Aslı Özarslan’s movie, screening in Generation 14plus at the Berlinale.

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Cineuropa: You are not afraid of being a bit harsh – after all, it’s this girl’s reality. Did this come from the original story?
Aslı Özarslan:
The most important thing was to show her without making any compromises, even if it gets uncomfortable. She can get on your nerves sometimes. I wanted her to just be herself, as in Berlin she is not allowed to do that. Once she flees to Istanbul, it all changes.

The novel has many layers, but I wanted to focus on these questions: “Who is she? Who could she be?” There is potential in her, which made me feel for her – in our society, there are so many young people with “potential”, and whether you will realise it or not often depends on your financial situation, for example. It makes me sad. There is anger in her, and everyone else had to feel it as well.

This question about identity is crucial because she doesn’t belong anywhere. She is a stranger in Germany and in Turkey, trying to figure out which place can offer her more.
It’s hard when you continue to see this divide between rich and poor because this gap is just getting bigger. Or when you continue experiencing racism, and right-wingers are getting stronger here, too. Today’s youngsters have so many problems to deal with. She knows that something is wrong, but she doesn’t yet know what it is. She tries to find her way and make it through this jungle. What I really liked in the novel was this sudden shift: a seemingly powerless girl takes her power back.

That’s true, but it has to do with something that’s unequivocally bad, which gives this film a darker edge.
This is the feeling I wanted, and I wanted to have that discussion. Hazal is not this “perfect migrant” that society likes to see, but she is not the perfect victim either. She never wanted things to end like they did; she didn’t do it on purpose. Moving on won’t be easy, but she needs to find her own way.

All these emotions are bound to explode at some point. I think we are still more used to seeing such outbursts coming from men, though. When you decided to show violence in young girls, how did you want to approach it?
This tragedy gives her an excuse to abandon all of the boundaries she used to have. Without this accident, she would never have gone to Turkey. Violence is mostly connected to men, but this girl doesn’t want to be a victim any more. She reaches a moment when she goes: “No. Enough. Why do you think you can mess with us?”

No wonder, as there is so much disappointment in her life – emotional, sexual… She is young and she should be carefree, but that feeling is just not there.
She feels lonely. She has friends and adores them, but she knows they will each go their own way. It’s hard when you can’t see a future for yourself and you don’t feel any support from family, friends or society. It makes her sad. If your parents come from a different reality, and that one system is all they know, it’s hard for them to imagine their child being successful in a different way. Hazal already knows it’s not always about being the best or about working hard – sometimes, you just can’t squeeze past the gatekeepers. That being said, I wanted this film to be hopeful as well because there is this young generation looking for answers now and reclaiming their power; I have hope for these young people.

She is certainly learning – slowly, but she is. You understand it when she says: “I just wanted him to say sorry.”
It’s not like she doesn’t regret it. Maybe if her aunt were to talk to her differently… Now, the aunt is society – she is judging her, too. There is something disappointing about that interaction. This film is not your typical “coming of age”. Hazal learns a lot, but she also learns how to accept herself – and her anger. How do you use that to your advantage? It’s possible; you just have to make sure not to be controlled by it. When I first discovered this story, its ending and her reaction to it shocked me, but I was also so touched by it. It’s a contradictory character, but I come from documentaries. I have learnt to stand by my protagonists.

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