Can Watermelons Float on Water?
After a long two-year wait, Ahmet Uluçay's feature film debut, Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds, is at last coming to cinemas in Europe. Inspired by his youth in Anatolia, the film is about a passion for cinema and falling in love for the first time. By Florian Blaschke
There is no shortage of films about the cinema. Take, for example, Giuseppe Tornatore's legendary Cinema Paradiso or Francois Truffaut's Day for Night.
Such stellar films as these certainly did not deter Ahmet Uluçay from selecting the cinema as his theme. The result is an impressive feature film debut called Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds.
Anatolia in the 1960s. It is a dry, hot summer full of seemingly endless days. The little village of Tepecek seems to be drowsy with sleep and heat. Recep and Mehmet are two inseparable friends who dream of a better world far away from the lonely yet stifling life in their village.
One sells watermelons, the other is training to be a hairdresser - not exactly what they consider the good life. The only break in the monotony is a travelling cinema that comes to the village every few weeks.
Whenever the projectionist arrives with his films, the two boys join him in the village's provisional cinema to escape the hum-drum of their daily lives for a few hours.
Symbol of a better life
But it is not what happens on the silver screen that fascinates Recep and Mehmet. They are much more interested in what the projectionist does behind the scenes and watch his every move while he works.
They dream of one day becoming great directors and making real films. With nothing else to do, the pair begin to construct a camera using wooden crates and simple tools.
The only thing that's missing is the speed required to make the pictures move. Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds is all about dreaming impossible dreams of leading a better life. But can such boats float on water?
Just as the enterprise seems doomed to failure, the widow Nezihe and her two daughters, Nihal and Guler, enter the boys' lives. As one might expect, Recep, who has absolutely no experience of love, falls deeply in love with the beautiful Nihal. But despite his awkward attempts, he simply cannot attract her attention.
Instead it is her younger sister, Guler, who falls in love with Recep, a love that remains unrequited. As the friendship between the two boys begins to crack under the strain of these developments, Mehmet tries everything to help his unhappy friend find love. The consequences are fatal.
Resourceful and determined
Ahmet Uluçay's feature film debut features a series of autobiographical elements. The story of Recep and Mehmet is one such element, the fact that Uluçay himself grew up in the village of Tepecek is another. And just like the boys in the film, he used to watch the projectionist at work and made himself rudimentary cameras and projectors in his youth.
He used to root through the mobile cinema's rubbish to find scraps of film that the projectionist had thrown away. He then used these snippets to put on brief shows for the people in the village.
Like the boys in the film, Uluçay was resourceful and determined. So determined, in fact, that he later won a prestigious prize for his self-made equipment from the University of Physics.
It is evident from Uluçay's work that he is telling his own story. The characters in the film are authentic. The camera work is simple and straightforward and paints a realistic and honest picture of Tepecek. There are no surprises and none of the characters are exaggerated.
Between the contrasting yellowy daytime sequences and the muted colours of the night-time shots, Uluçay creates a microcosm that is dominated by a passion for the cinema.
The film pays homage to his native country, to a past era, and to his love of films. But above all, it is an honest and unsentimental memorial to his youth.
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan