I have to admit that on a certain level I respect Özcan Deniz. The singer-turned-film star has been relentlessly pursuing a directing career on the side, and although his debut film “Ya Sonra” (And Then What?) and his second film “Evim Sensin” (You're My Home) was to me not very impressionable in terms of female representation, they both tried to present a new kind of male: the confounded macho man trying to get over his patriarchal values and codes, who is content with monogamy and remains eternally in love with the same woman.
Deniz's theme of love continues in his latest “Su ve Ateş” (Water and Fire), a potpourri of a film that incorporates doses of Douglas Sirk melodramas, the epic sorrow of The Godfather series and the kind of subliminal conviction and faith inspired by Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life” (seriously!).
Let's get it straight though, although Deniz has incredibly high cinematic and, in a way, artistic ambitions, he and his producer, the legendary Şükrü Avşar, must have accepted that their film's main goal is to conquer the box office with this tearjerker crowd pleaser (The film will be shown in approximately 260 theaters throughout Turkey). As such, the artistry in the film (especially the astounding cinematography and production design) and the occasionally promising narrative moments that almost dive into important issues, such as the clutches of tradition, feudal cruelty and the hardship of single motherhood, are purposefully left in the background for the sake of indulging in a grandiose larger-than-life romance. In a way the romance works because, let's admit it, in a twisted way, we still love to see beautiful people who have good hearts fall recklessly in love.
So yes, on a certain level I respect Deniz, because he knows very well how to reach out to one's guilty pleasures, especially those of women, since he's the only male mainstream filmmaker in Turkey who has the guts to try and create a male character who admits to his weaknesses and does not have a problem being vulnerable onscreen. In fact he's on his way to becoming the Barbara Cartland of Turkish cinema. At this point, I'm leaving out the representation of female characters, but we'll get to that later.
So what's the story about? Handsome and suave Haşmet (Deniz) is the eldest son of one of the strongest “families” in Turkey. Due to a meeting gone horribly wrong with a rival family, he hops on a plane to London to lay low for a while. On the plane he has a cute meeting with the annoyingly adorable Yağmur (Yasemin Allen), who is moving to London to work as a hairdresser. After a couple of scenes of bantering and small flirtations, the two inevitably fall in love and in comes the unavoidable romance montage sequence accompanied by dramatic violins. Throughout this period, the couple has to walk with Haşmet's bodyguards in the background but Yağmur doesn't seem to have a problem with that even though she doesn't exactly know who Haşmet really is.
Almost a year passes in bliss in picturesque London, but then Haşmet is contacted by his family from İstanbul who tells him that the only way to end the bloodshed with the rival family is if he marries their daughter. Oh what to do? Haşmet won't have it, his heart is with Yağmur. But what will Yağmur do once she finds out that their lives might be in danger if Haşmet doesn't fulfill his familial duty? And thus with misconceptions, heartbreak and big sacrifice, the two will have to part ways. But their love is not dead and destiny will play its part. Mind you, bringing a lot of tears and violin music with it.
The character of Yağmur is an interesting one. Although the costume department has chosen to put her in long dresses with floral patterns, singlehandedly emphasizing her fragility and purity, she comes out as a strong woman with a will of steel. In this regard the character of Nupelda (Pelin Akil), the daughter of the rival family, also deserves attention. Sure she's a typical femme fatale, but her complexities and dilemmas save her from being a cardboard cut-out. The only problem with these two female characters is that although Deniz has toiled with sweat and blood to make Haşmet a breathing character with multilayered complexities, he's forgotten to extend the same amount of effort for Yağmur and Nupelda. Throughout the story their existence is verified only by that of Haşmet; neither woman has any concern in life apart from trying to make the man happy.
If Deniz continues with the romantic path in cinema, my honest hope is that he develops his craft by giving equal importance to both genders. He's a smart man, so he just might.
If you need to unwind and feel that it's time to submit to your guilty pleasure, “Su ve Ateş” will not disappoint. It's just pure catharsis.
‘Su ve Ateş’ (Water and Fire)
Directed by: Özcan Deniz
Cast: Özcan Deniz, Yasemin Allen, Pelin Akil, Yusuf Akgün, Doğa Bekleriz, Burçin Birben