Screenplay, Editing, Direction – Reha Erdem, Cinematography – Florent Herry,  Sound Design – Herve Guyader,  Production Design – Omer Atay,  Music – Orhan Gencebay,  Cast – Elit Iscan (Hayat)HayatVar

Hayat, 14, lives in a miserable shack on the shores of the Bosphorus in Istanbul with her father, a fisherman, a dealer in illegal liquor and prostitutes, and her grandfather, asthmatic, unable to breathe without the support of an oxygen tank, bed-ridden. Her mother has left them to be with a policeman with whom she has a baby boy, much loved and adored. The mother and her new husband barely want Hayat in their house. The father is gentle with Hayat, but too preoccupied with his survival to really know what is happening to her. She is enormously neglected. And vulnerable to the people around her. A young boy who stalks her. An old female neighbor who takes care of her when her father wants her to be out of the house while he entertains clients, who is almost predatory in her cuddling of Hayat. A shopkeeper who sexually abuses her for small treats. Her only real friend seems to be one of her father’s prostitutes, who gives her the gift of a red lipstick.

The visuals are lyrical, yes, the editing reflective. But primarily this is a film that is a study in narrative in sound. Sounds that imply, suggest, portend, deepen the narrative. 

The film opens, with the sound of seagulls squawking, the ship horns in the distance, the chugging of a boat, boat cutting through waves, realistic sounds and yet portentous. For a long time, we see only the back of Hayat’s head, still, vulnerable. 

At home, the sizzling of fish in pan, the old man’s gasping for breath, dogs barking in the distance, her father’s laughter and incoherent conversation with someone on the phone. Train passing, the sound of the TV in Hayat’s room. The boards of their house deck creaking.

The next morning, Hayat’s footsteps and her quiet humming as she goes to school. A humming which continues through the film, almost her only vocal response to everything that happens to her. Until her father gives her a stuffed toy which sings of sunshine and love. She uses the toy to react, protest, mourn, give up. 

Scenes are reflective within themselves. The boy who stalks her sings as she waits for her father, a ferry comes by with the football players singing raucously, the boy and his friend board the ferry and leave, the girl is left alone, humming quietly.

Later at night, her father sneaks off to drink with his friend, Hayat eats a muffin stealthily hiding it from her grandfather, while her grandfather sneaks out some tobacco from under his pillow, until he drops his spoon with a clatter. The spoon he uses again and again to draw attention, banging it against his bed stead, eating with it, throwing it, greedily sharing the milk pudding Hayat’s father brings her, a rare gift, even when she does not want to share it.

The reflection of the house shimmers in the water, the reflection of the water shimmers on her face.

Her father packs her off to their neighbor’s house while he entertains some foreign tourist clients with illegal liquor, the neighbor drinks while she watches TV, continually stroking and petting Hayat. The tourists drink with the prostitutes. The neighbor is watching a show, which talks of easy virtue, a man telling a girl it’s OK to flirt, if you want to be in good society.

In another scene, Hayat holds her baby brother, sitting on the deck outside the house. Her mother inside, tending to the grandfather, hears a plop. She goes out, looks at Hayat. You don’t see it but wonder; Hayat seems to have thrown the baby in the water. Cut to the father looking at Hayat, sound of baby laughing, you see it’s a stuffed toy.

Boys in lonely street, threatening almost, stopping her way, offer her a cigarette. She takes one, throws the packet away, and runs off. The city is silent, deserted. Sound of gunfire, etc. The threat distant but there.

The shopkeeper sexually assaults her. After he is done, she grabs a lot of candy, as a police siren wails in the distance. Cut to her father transporting a prostitute to the big ship as a police boat passes by.

The school choir dance is very innocent. The boys and girls dancing in a waltz seem childish while some kids sing an adult song of love. It seems to have nothing to do with the harsh reality of Hayat’s life. She is in the choir, mumbling the song. 

Often enough, the contradiction between what we see and what we hear, or the pull between them, create Hayat’s world, her helplessness, being a child, in a world which is beyond her control. Hayat is seemingly thick-skinned, almost cruel in her response to this world.  Elit Iscan who plays Hayat, has only the tiniest glimmer of a smile, a smile that comes with a teenager’s vanity, a smile which makes you feel that she will yet make it. A hope that is strengthened in the joyous boat ride she takes with the boy who has been stalking her.

I saw this film on Mubi.com

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