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Emre Yeksan • Director

“We live in a period of slow decay, and the smell won’t go away any time soon”


- VENICE 2017: After a lengthy development process, Emre Yeksan’s feature debut, The Gulf, has been premiered in the International Critics’ Week; we talked to him about it

Emre Yeksan • Director
(© Leonardo Kurtz / International Critics' Week)

After spending four years in development with the film, Turkish director and scriptwriter Emre Yeksan has presented his debut feature, The Gulf [+see also:
film review
interview: Emre Yeksan
film profile
, in the 32nd International Film Critics’ Week competition of the 74th Venice International Film Festival. Cineuropa talked to the director about the allegorical aspect of the movie and his personal background.

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Cineuropa: What made you want to narrate this story, which seems so abstract but also so real at the same time?
Emre Yeksan: Although I like realism in cinema, I feel a little overwhelmed by the dominance of it in contemporary filmmaking. Even the most fantastic, unrealistic subject can be presented with a realistic, documentary-like approach. We are so used to watching lives run their course in front of us, as if watching the news or online live streams. Then I decided to make a stylistic separation between cinema as representation and cinema as reality, and use both in comparison. But even though the style of The Gulf may seem alienating or abstract, I wanted the story to remain as realistic as possible. I thought it might be the right way of moving from the singular experience of a character to a broader resonance with the lives of the viewers.

How did you come up with the idea of the smell? Is there any allegory behind it?
The smell doesn’t symbolise just one thing, like it would traditionally in an allegorical work; it is inspired by reality itself. There was an unbearable smell in the Gulf of Izmir when I was a child, and it made life quite difficult during the summer. The basin was cleaned in the early 2000s. I remembered that smell almost every time I went to visit my parents in Izmir. Scent is a powerful trigger of memories; it is hard to forget the smell of things. So one day, a question came up: what if the smell comes back suddenly, and more potent than ever?

What attracted me to this idea of smell was that it may become a catastrophe, but without any imminent dramatic consequences – it’s not strong enough to become a life-changing event. It’s because I think we live in a period of slow decay, so I can say that the smell will not go away any time soon. It was always there, anyway. And it may become less strong over time, or people may get used to it, but it is there to stay. Escaping from it doesn’t solve the problem. We should find ways to create a new life, a better world. So it’s not too late; perhaps we’re just in time.

Izmir is also your hometown; are there any autobiographical elements in your film?
Yes, there are. As I said, the smell itself is an important part of my memory from my childhood. On the other hand, the main character Selim’s state of mind is very similar to mine at the time when the first components of the story took shape in my mind, back in 2008. I was back in Izmir, staying with my parents, a little lost in life and not so willing to make an effort to change things. This feeling created the basis for Selim, and I had to push it even further to make him unforgivingly passive. Some of my friends, who have seen the film, were surprised to see so much of me in this character.

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