From beginning to finish, “Veda” is the loyal portrayal of the demi-god statue that we have been reading about in history books since we were 5 years old. Sure he is made flesh-and-bone via a handful of actors of different ages (Sinan Tuzcu in particular steals most of the screen time portraying the ages 25-45), but they are just mere vessels for dialogue and quotes that we have been reciting since… forever.
How hard is it to make an Atatürk film, one that will make everyone happy -- something that will genuinely show the extraordinary might of a political and military leader and at the same time present the ordinariness of a human being who shows a capacity for fear? And most importantly, will the majority of the Turkish public ever be convinced that showing the frail and vulnerable aspects of Mustafa Kemal might not actually be a divisive tool threatening the foundations of the country?
Scrutinizing the official Web site of the film, I read in the “about the film” section two short paragraphs of the story and two long paragraphs that boast about the colossal production values that went into the film -- apparently 1,200 kilograms of makeup were imported, 150 wigs were created out of human hair and 12,000 costume pieces were tailored in order to capture the authenticity of the era. Surely, the technical qualities of the film are outstanding, but do we not already expect that as a given in a historical production such as this? Furthermore, does this sanctify the film as a good film in itself?
‘Veda’ is this year’s by-the-book Atatürk movie
Based on the memoirs of Salih Bozok, Mustafa Kemal's childhood friend from Thessaloniki and later his lifelong aide, the film retraces the life of Mustafa from the early age of 6, in 1887. We see the two little boys on their first day of school; Salih knocks down the Quran of the hoca (teacher) by accident, yet small Mustafa courageously takes the fall for his friend along with the beating. Even at this age, Mustafa is a martyr; he doesn't even cry to his mother, Zübeyde (Dolunay Soysert), as she applies balm.
When Mustafa is an adolescent, he starts attending military school; he looks with pride at his reflection in uniform. It is as if he's already waiting to take control of the country.
We arrive in 1913; Mustafa Kemal is already a successful officer with the Ottoman army, but when the Balkan Wars break out, his mother and sister must leave Thessaloniki, and in the destitution of war, take the long harrowing walk to İstanbul.
By 1915, Mustafa is posted as the front-line commander during the Battle of Gallipoli, a grandiose scene of battle is presented to us as we are shown once again the courage and military genius of the commander. The years go by as we watch Mustafa Kemal transform into the leader of the organized national resistance movement to subsequently lead the War of Independence. In 1923 the republic is formed, and the story suddenly takes on an entirely psychological tone where the trials and tribulations of the two women in the life of Mustafa Kemal dominate the story.
The real problematic part of “Veda” is that while trying to illustrate every aspect of the life of Atatürk (his political and military career, his relationship with his friends and family) the film lacks a focal point and manifests itself as a string of sketches molded out of the sources of documented history. “What is this story really about?” one wonders while observing the meticulous and authentic production design -- is it about how Atatürk sacrificed his personal life for the nation, is it about the destitution and hardships that every character endured during the time or is it about Salih Bozok's devotion to his dear friend -- which made him attempt to take his own life since he could not bear the loss of Mustafa?
The most human story in the film becomes that of Mustafa Kemal's wife, Latife (Ezgi Mola), and Fikriye (Özge Özpirinççi), his distant relative who could not share the man. While Latife represented the West and was the perfect marital partner, Fikriye represented the East and was assumed to be the true love of Mustafa. The unfortunate death of Fikriye is presented in the film as a suicide, though sources still have not confirmed the details.
“Veda” will surely make an explosion at the local box office; it's the kind of massive epic drama that audiences anticipate when it comes to national history.
However, an Atatürk movie of deeper context ingrained with a fresh approach is yet to be produced.