Biting Turkish satire at Cannes sends up taboo over adoption
Cannes (France) (AFP) – There is an almost unbearable moment early in the biting Turkish black comedy “Album” — which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival Thursday — when a childless couple visit an orphanage to choose a baby to adopt.
As they look the child over, it’s clear they are not overjoyed that she’s a girl.
When the baby gurgles and smiles, desperate to be picked up, one says: “She looks a bit Syrian.”
“A Kurd I’d say,” the other replies, and they make their excuses and leave.
“Album”, one of the highlight of Cannes Critics’ Week section, holds up the mores of provincial Turkey to the light and finds them sorely wanting.
“It is not that this couple are horrible or nasty,” director Mehmet Can Mertoglu told AFP. “They are not. They are just ordinary civil servants, with all the usual racism and prejudices you find.”
They are “totally typical” of modern Turkey under the increasingly heavy hand of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has urged all Turkish women to have at least three children.
Couples are under huge pressure from their employers and families to have children, not just the government, the first-time director said.
“All they want is to be respectable… and they can kill for their respectability,” said Mertoglu. “What they do in the film is not normal but nobody (in Turkey) discusses that it is not normal,” he said.
Despite attempts to lift the taboo over adoption, it is still seen as something “shameful, to be hidden”, he said.
In the film, the couple compile a fake family photo album of the pregnancy with the help of their family and friends.
– Fake birth videos –
The chain-smoking adoptive mother-to-be, played by Turkish soap star Sebnem Bozoklu, wears a false bump, posing on the beach and in bed as the glowing expectant mum.
Mertoglu said that when researching the film he found it was “common practice in Turkey for parents to create proof of a biological tie to the baby to cast away any doubt about their fertility.”
“All families that adopted a child had a strong impulse to hide it,” he said he was told by professionals in the sector. “Making fake photo albums is relatively common. I even heard stories of fake delivery videos.
“And it has nothing to do with social status,” he added, revealing “academics and highly educated people” as being known to have the same hang-ups.
Both religious and secular Turks share the prejudice, Mertoglu said, with religious people “believing that, while it’s good to give a home to an orphan, it is a sin to make out that you are the parent.”
– Bitterly divided –
Turkey’s bitter divisions between its religious and secular halves has also made reproduction a hot political potato, with secular Turks suspecting conservatives of trying to outbreed them, he added.
The film follows the couple from life in the liberal resort of Antalya to the conservative Anatolian city of Konya, where their carefully crafted plans begin to unravel.
A deft comedy of modern Turkish manners, it has the teacher husband (Murat Kilic) moving from a school on the coast which looks like something from “Beverly Hills 90210” to one in Konya which would not look out of place in Iran.
The film also gently skewers the crushing dullness of provincial life, which 27-year-old Mertoglu knows well, having been brought up in the small western Anatolian city of Akhisar.
And there are several ironic insights into Turkey’s new order, with the self-serving director of an orphanage displaying a portrait of Erdogan that dwarfs that of the Turkish republic’s founder, Kemal Ataturk.
“The ultimate goal of this couple is to have an acceptable place in society. Not to have a child is unthinkable,” Mertoglu said.
“For them and for many people in Turkey a child is like owning a washing machine or a television. A marriage with no child can never be recognised as an accomplished life,” he added.
The terrible thing they end up doing, he said, starts out in “a very innocent way… they are also doing it for the child as well because it is hard for a child to grow up (in Turkey) with the fact that it is adopted” hanging over it.