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FILMS Turkey / France / Germany

10 to 11: Preserving history in the modern world

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Turkish director Pelin Esmer’s second feature film, 10 to 11 [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, deals with preserving history as opposed to chasing material goods and an improved quality of life in today’s Turkey.

Mithat (Mithat Esmer) is a solitary, 83-year old pensioner living in an Istanbul apartment building. His passion and meaning in life is collecting and his flat is overcrowded with old newspapers, clocks, unopened bottles, books, photographs, manually powered torches and various other sundries. He is obsessed with finding the eleventh and final volume of the Istanbul Encyclopedia, a rare and expensive book.

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When Mithat gets asthma from all the dust in his apartment, he employs the building’s concierge, 34-year old Ali (Nejat Isler), to do chores for him, buying items for his collection and hunting for the elusive encyclopedia. Ali has a completely different background, having moved to Istanbul from a small village in an attempt to earn money for his family. Until Mithat’s request, his life is confined to the building and while he initially fears the outside world, this turns out to be an opportunity to explore outside life.

Mithat’s neighbours have received an offer to move out of the building to a new, better apartment block. But Mithat doesn’t want to leave his place and move the collection, which would be practically impossible given its size. Thus, the neighbours try to sabotage him, calling public utility inspectors in an attempt to declare his apartment a safety hazard to the building.

Mithat Esmer is the director’s uncle, and a collector in real life. His frowned facial expression almost never changes, and he is the paradigm of the tenant who annoys his neighbours, found throughout the modern world. But he is a character we easily grow to love when contrasted with families only searching for a mundane, more Western quality of life, ignorant of Eastern traditions and values.

Isler, best known as the star of Semih Kaplanoglu’s Egg [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, represents a link between Mithat and the outside world, from which he himself gains the most. At the beginning he appears almost autistic in his inexperience in urban living, but gradually he learns the ways of contemporary Istanbul, simultaneously building an understanding of tradition. While Mithat is as much an antique as the items he collects, Ali becomes a resourceful modern man with a much more substantial base than most of the inhabitants of the city on the Bosporus.

The film flows smoothly, largely thanks to the editing by Esmer, Ayhan Ergursel and Cem Yıldırım. Clean photography by Ozgur Eken’s HD camera opens up the film when, on rare occasions, it leaves Mithat’s flat and enters Istanbul’s bustling streets, public transport and, in a particularly meaningful scene, a graveyard. Innovative sound design introduces elements that serve to transpose the film from the real world to Mithat’s living in the past.

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