Hybrid docufiction explores Istanbul’s rebuild through the experiences of the director’s nonagenarian father


Source: Berlin International Film Festival


Dir/scr: Asli Ozge. Germany/Turkey/France. 2024. 97mins

The ancient Turkish city of Istanbul is a place in seemingly permanent flux. Its characterful stone buildings and lush city parks are being increasingly overshadowed — or, worse, replaced — by gleaming high rise apartments, all in the name of urban development. Filmmaker Asli Ozge navigates this rocky path between past and future in her hybrid documentary Faruk, with her nonagenarian father taking centre stage as he fights against the demolition of his beloved home.

Puts a quirky, personal spin on this important socioeconomic issue

Shot over seven years — exact dates are perhaps deliberately unclear, but the project was completed before the country’s devastating 2023 earthquake which gives the finished film an extra resonance — Faruk (named after the director’s father) puts a quirky, personal spin on this important socioeconomic issue. It may be specifically Turkish, but the wider themes of gentrification and displacement should see the film attract further festival play following its Berlin Panorama premiere.

The Turkish-born, Berlin-based Asli Ozge, whose debut feature Men On The Bridge premiered at Locarno in 2009 and who previously played Panorama with Lifelong and All Of A Sudden, describes her film as blurring the line between documentary and fiction. She is at pains to make this clear during the first 20 minutes. As we are introduced to her elderly father Faruk as he relaxes in his apartment, chats with friends or walks in the local park, Ozge gives directions – how to stand, how to sign his name, even how to clap – from off camera, which often pulls back to take in the entire crew

Yet, while Ozge may be choreographing sequences for maximum dramatic impact, she is recreating real events in authentic locations. Faruk’s apartment building, where he has lived for many years, is scheduled to be demolished and rebuilt as a luxury block. As we watch him navigate meetings with residents and developers, and face the ignominy of having to produce mental fitness certificates to take part in these discussions, it becomes increasingly clear that this may be a losing battle and that, despite his good health and determination, Faruk may not have the time to see it through. Repeated shots of him gazing out of the window onto the ever-changing city act as a something of a ticking clock. 

Adding another layer is the fact that Ozge, who has a strong presence in the film (although she does disappear in its second half, to become a voice on the telephone), has constructed what she calls a “fictionalised version” of herself. She is responding to events as both a concerned daughter and ambitious filmmaker — one who is engaged in her own distracting struggle to secure continuing funding.

With Turkey’s urban development ramping up in the face of increasing earthquake threats (the authorities argue that old buildings are unsafe, backed up by developers motivated by extensive financial incentives), the prospect of losing one’s home, often at extremely short notice, is becoming more common. “In Turkey, you either die in an earthquake or by falling into a construction hole,” says one of Faruk’s neighbours, wryly; she, like him, wants to fight to save their block, while others are lured by the promise of luxuries like a fitness centre and working boilers.

Here, Faruk is something of an outlier, standing in the way of progress. With the film’s intimate cinematography, which stays constantly by Faruk’s side, and sound design which often sees the cacophony of the city and the constant hum of construction bleeding into scenes, Ozge places us deep in the mindset of this man and his late-in-life struggles. 

A couple of sequences — such as when Faruk, seemingly moved by the beautiful women he has been watching on the television, engages in a fantasy involving a naked 20-something woman — are less successful in this regard, and seem out of step with the rest of the film. Yet, generally, this immersive blending of documentary and fiction works to gets under the skin of its engaging protagonist; a taciturn, stoic and engaging King Canute figure attempting to hold back the tide even as it laps at his door.

Production company: EEE Films, FC Instanbul, Parallel 45, The Post Republic

International sales: Heretic, info@heretic.gr

Producers: Ash Ozge, Seyhan Kaya, Jean-Christophe Simon, Michael Reuter

Cinematography: Emre Erkmen

Editing: Andreas Samland, Asli Ozge

Music: Karim Sebastian Elias

Main cast: Faruk Ozge, Fikret Omge, Derya Erkenci, Nurdan Cakmak, Alibey Guner, Gonul Gezer Semih, Aslanoglu Begum Guzeldogu