As for Ankara’s legendary Siyah Beyaz bar and Art Gallery, the place has been a landmark of high-end art and upper-crust intellectualism for longer than 20 years. Director Ahmet Boyacıoğlu’s “Siyah Beyaz” (Black and White) is, in short, an adamant ode to this bar, and on a larger scale, the city it represents through its group of characters.
Personally, as someone who grew up in the capital, Siyah Beyaz always seemed like a familiar yet distant planet, perhaps because of its adult clientele and a certain intangible aura of inaccessibility emanating to those who aren’t “smart” and “successful” enough. It isn’t a surprise that most of the film’s characters, one way or the other, fit this profile of adulterated bourgeoisie carrying on their shoulders the guilty nostalgia of their socialist pasts.
So meet the bar’s regulars -- all close friends of the elegant owner Faruk (Taner Birsel): aging sage painter Ahmet Nihat (veteran actor Tuncel Kurtiz); lawyer-turned-businessman Muzaffer (Erkan Can), who feeds snails as a pastime; the brilliant surgeon nicknamed “Doktor” (Nejat İşler); and the headstrong corporate gal ayten (Şevval Sam). Now these folk basically gather around the bar every single night and chat about life, occasionally they go on a fishing trip, play poker at Ahmet’s house, go visit a dying friend at a hospital, walk through parks, remember the old days...
This is Ankara, so each has his or her own story and lamentation on life (well you know, everyone here is depressed about one thing or the other). Faruk has had enough of the good times and wants to close down the place to the dismay of his friends; Nihat is getting old; lone-wolf Muzaffer still can’t forget his university sweetheart who suddenly pops back after a 25-year absence; Doktor’s wife leaves him for another man; and Ayten is already bitter and tired over her strong independent woman routine.
This is not a film where much happens except for long group dialogues around the bar in which the past is recounted and the looming threat of the bar closing down is “affecting” everyone’s life one way or another. One would dare ask: Why should we really care about these people and their issues? Sure they’re all good people -- as Boyacıoğlu also portrays them in their personal, intimate and alone moments. However, these single character studies are somehow not enough to completely engage the audience. At times, for viewers who do not share the same socio-economic background or come from the same generation, the characters can come off as self-indulgent -- is it really the end of the world when your favorite bar might close down?
Interestingly enough, the characters that are best drawn out in this film are not the men but women. One should in fact thank Boyacıoğlu for Sam’s character, Ayten, one of the few decent portrayals of a single career woman in Turkish cinema. Ayten might be scared to death of old age as she continuously stares into the mirror with horror; however, her realistic perception of life and her no-nonsense approach to romance and men echo the truthful qualities of women in her position. Such genuineness is also the situation for Muzaffer’s re-appearing first love, Nilgün (Derya Alabora), another career woman of compassionate intelligence and vigor. Both female performances are close to perfect.
Let’s face it, “Siyah Beyaz” is a film specifically addressing a certain group of people -- those who are above 35, who are well off and those who consider themselves a part of a certain intellectual circle.
For sure, the film has very sweet moments of friendship, and its restrained camera work and editing ooze a certain serenity and composure; however, one sometimes wishes that the makers of the film occasionally smashed this sterile world of modernity to pieces.
All in all, Boyacıoğlu presents a worthy piece of work. Then again, if you really want to “unwind” in Ankara, walk past Siyah Beyaz, go through Kuğulu Park and on the left corner you’ll see a dinghy-looking bar-bistro called Kıtır. Don’t be misled; this is where you go for that first beer of the day.