Semih Kaplanoglu is another key player in new Turkish cinema. Bal, his latest picture premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, taking home the Golden Bear, the festival’s award of highest regard. Bal is the third and final instalment in Kaplanoglu’s semi-autobiographical trilogy.
The series traces the origins of its main character, Yusuf’s soul. It begins with Yumurta, the tale of middle-aged Yusuf, a poet/intellect who is forced to re examine his values and beliefs, after the death of his mother. Yusuf returns to his long abandoned hometown for his mother’s burial. Ayla, his mother’s caretaker greets him. Ayla explains his mother Zehra’s final wish. She request Yusuf to carry through with a sacrificial rite, Zehra was unable to complete. Yusuf reluctantly sets out with Ayla to the saint’s tomb to perform the task. The couple arrives in the evening, when the shepherd is unable to locate the herd. Forced to linger until dawn for the shepherd and his herd return, they decide to find a place to rest. Yusuf and Ayla find themselves in an obscenely large banquet hall/hotel. The two split up to explore the facilities and cross paths shortly after in one of the wedding banquets. The wedding party is a significant change of pace. For the first time in the picture, both characters are at ease. The following morning they return and follow through with the sacrifice. Neither Yusuf nor Ayla are contented, but they both seem to find comfort in each other’s discomfort. After the ceremony Yusuf must return Ayla to his hometown before returning to Istanbul. The couple part refusing to show any signs of emotion, but are both internally perplexed. Yusuf leaves town and gets in an accident, triggering a life-changing breakdown.
Second in the trilogy is a picture called Süt. Süt follows Yusuf as he enters adulthood, post high school graduation. Yusuf discovers his true passion in poetry, and has a few of his poems published in literary journals. Despite his success, he fails his university entrance exam, and is forced to sell milk in the towns market with his mother Zehra. Their business is quickly diminishing due the abundance of larger supermarkets opening in the town. The picture reflects upon the recent upheaval in Turkey. Kaplanoglu points out especially on the outskirts of towns and in rural areas. Yusuf and his mother quickly begin to drift apart. Zehra finds emancipation while Yusuf finds refuge in tradition.
Bal is the final chapter in the trilogy. Bal documents the early stages of Yusuf’s childhood. Yusuf is a quiet imaginative country boy from a proletariat family, who is terrorized by his classmates due to his stutter. Yusuf shares a strong bond with his father Yakup; a renowned beekeeper that scales large trees to plant hives at high altitudes. Yakup shows Yusuf his trade, taking his son into the forest. The young imaginative boy is drawn to the quiet, mystical landscapes. Yakup leaves to work on a large risky assignment. Days after his fathers departure, Yusuf remains locked up with his mother in the family’s poorly lit shack. Yusuf begins to notice his mother’s low moral, and refuses to speak. Unwilling to accept his father disappearance, Yusuf flees his house on a personal, yet spiritual journey to into the deep depths of the forest.
Kaplanoglu chooses to use absolutely no music, and minimal cuts in his pictures to create a certain sense of realism. Despite the fact that his characters are often distant or reluctant to show emotion, Kaplanoglu’s Yusuf trilogy subtextually delves deep into the souls of not only its characters, but also their nation.