Friday, 13 March 2009

[159] Interview with Turkish Director Cagan Irmak (Issiz Adam)

Last night, I attended the London premiere and opening gala for Issiz Adam (Alone, read my review here), a film which was a huge hit in its native Turkey, attracting an audience of upwards of 3 million. I had the chance to speak with writer/director Çagan Irmak, where he filled me in on his work methods, his inspirations and his intentions for the film. We also spoke of Turkey, Turkish culture, and its standing in the world.


Where did Issiz Adam come from? What was your inspiration?

In the last five years, I realised something in Istanbul. There is loneliness. This is a new thing for Turkey, maybe you know that feeling in England or in the big city, but this is a new thing for us. Everybody is experiencing loneliness... This is a metropolitan story; it is not a love story for me, it is a story about loneliness, about a lonely man. If this movie was a song, it would be an Alan Parsons Project song. The inspiration came from the street, the crowds. This is my first story about big city life, after my last movie The Messenger (Ulak), which was fantastical and epic, a kind of fairy tale.

You say that this isn't a simple 'love story', yet it has found a large audience. Why do you think the film is so popular?

It depends. I didn't plan that. The film came from the heart. It is a 'letter to George'; where you are lonely, and you write something to yourself. This movie is like murmuring for me.

The movie has many specific Turkish elements, including its soundtrack containing specific tracks from the 1970s and other periods. What are these 'Turkish' aspects, and could you explain them for those outside of the culture?

All of the songs help the storytelling, and they are storytellers in the movie. They came from my childhood - all the records you see in the movie are from my collection. Alper, the lead character, is coming from a small town, and he is lost in a big town. His mother asks him 'why are you so unhappy?' And he doesn't know why, because he is lost in the metropolis.

Do you think that identity is found in the family? An identity which is lost when a person moves to the city?

Sometimes the family can turn your life to hell, sometimes they can give you little joys and happiness. In Turkey, the family ties are so important to us. We stay between our life and our families. I don't know which one is 'good', but that is how we live.

On the flip side, the main female character Ada reads Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd...

I love that book! The woman in the book is so strong. Ada is a strong woman for me. I wasn't planning this as something for the English audience, it just happened like that, it could have been House of Mirth (by Edith Wharton), or lots of Turkish books which you wouldn't know.

In the film, you use very specific cinematic techniques to mirror the film's tone, or the romance. You start off light and breezy, with many quick cuts, but then settle into slow pans...

It depends on the characters. In my movie, the camera is in the lead role. I have to make things clear as a director through the camera - it is for storytelling. I am a storyteller, before being a director. And I wanted to feel the camera, and the camera depends on the characters' moods. I don't want to seem big-headed or narcissistic, though!

On the posters, the film is described as being 'controversial'. Do you think it is controversial?

Actually, I didn't plan that. It is a small story, for me... This is a new story for Turkey, and young people love the movie because they found themselves and their lives in the story. They found their streets, their coffees! They say, 'I am like that man, like that woman'.

It did feel authentic. I read that you filmed on real locations, in restaurants and apartments...

But, actually, we created the houses and costumes from nothing, I believe that if you're telling stories about a man, you have to build them up. You have to build his or her house again. It depends on the characters - everything is important. For example, Ada is a woman who makes art. Did you realise, she was touching every table, wall, surface. Nobody notices that, but it is important for me - it is her feelings!

Turkish cinema seems to be experiencing a new wave of filmmaking, what do you think of Turkish culture at the moment?

Where is Turkey in the world? Turkish cinema is in the same place. What is the opinion of Turkey in the world? The opinion of Turkish cinema is the same. And we are living in complicated times in Turkey. It is very like purgatory, we have to jump over to the other side, but we are waiting. We are searching through styles, searching through our histories and lives. One day, we will jump through - I am waiting. We don't have a 'mainstream' cinema in Turkey. Sometimes we make art-house movies, sometimes we make big box office movies, but there are no 'mainstream' stories in Turkish cinema. With this film, I wanted to make a mainstream story for the young people. We need that.

So you wanted to create something mainstream for normal young people?

Yes. I am standing in between. But it is not a big deal, I am happy with the mainstream.

Issiz Adam is currently playing in London, at the Odeons Holloway, Lee Valley, Panton Street and Whiteleys. Çagan Irmak photograph appears courtesy of

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