You could describe Recep Ivedik with some justification as every cultivated person's nightmare. But this anti-hero is packing them into the cinemas in Turkey. As Christiane Schlötzer says, one reason is that Ivedik's ballyhoo is a fairly accurate picture of social divisions in Turkey
So now we know what cultivated people see in their worst nightmares: Recep Ivedik. He's a boor, a bore and a badmouth, fiddles with his crotch, and carries his paunch like a trophy. Dressed often enough in an absolutely tasteless orange shirt, he throws out comments which make you want to shrivel with embarrassment. He bellows at us that, if he can't get a job, it's because the special nature of his DNA makes him unsuitable for employment. He's far too touchy anyway. He's a fat guy who doesn't know what to do with his weight.
But they're storming the cinemas – everybody wants to see him. Well, perhaps not everybody: there are some people who say, if I want to see someone who's just like the janitor of my building, I don't need to buy a ticket for the cinema – which is an insult to the nation's janitors – either that, or a compliment, depending on how you take it.
Tensions between social opposites as a source of humour
Anyway, he's cult. Recep Ivedik was the most successful film hero of 2008, and now less than a year later, there's "Recep Ivedik 2", which is once more breaking all Turkish box office records. Ivedik is family entertainment – a fact which is not much affected by the film's over-12 age restriction, since everyone seems to take a rather relaxed view of that. The ban on Ivedik for the young is supposed to protect them from his vulgar language. Turkish film critics find Ivedik's huge popularity quite embarrassing.
But that's part of the concept of this character. Recep Ivedik's main feature is a mouth into which he can put his foot. He has a real wit, which he uses to exploit the social contradictions in Turkish society, rather like the traditional Turkish shadow puppet figure Karagöz. In Ivedik's case, it's all to do with the obvious class differences in modern Turkey. He's confronted with a world in which a stupid, stubborn creature like himself can only fail.
This bear of a man, with facial hair which looks like sideburns of a Neanderthal, doesn't know that it's not done to order Kurdish mountain tea in Starbucks. In a sushi bar, he spreads a thick layer of hot horseradish wasabi on his bread; when he visits an Istanbul yoga club where all the other customers are as skinny as a rake, he doesn't fit on any of the mats; he goes to a party at which westernised advertising professionals are wearing little black dresses, but he's dressed in an Anatolian dragon suit.
In the world of the "white Turks"
This portrait of a Turkish lout is obviously exaggerated, and scarcely anyone is going to identify with it directly. What people can identify with is not so much the person himself as the embarrassing situations with which he is confronted, and in which he is always the underdog. Millions of people have come from the countryside to the big cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir and they feel a distance between them and the brave new world of the "white Turks", the urban elite. One can't fail to see in Turkey how far apart the upper middle class is from the army of cheap labour which makes its life so easy.
But it would be a bit rich to interpret Recep Ivedik as a social romantic, challenging the new Turkish consumerism. His creator has planned the mass success of his figure carefully, and he's anything but a fool. Sahan Gökbakar was born in 1980 in Izmir and studied music and art at the renowned Bilkent University in Ankara, graduating with one of the best grades of his year. And then he started working on television comedy shows.
Ivedik was one of the characters he created: a man who isn't aware of the rules of society, and who therefore repeatedly breaks them, trying to get himself out of every awkward situation by loutish behaviour. He's a sad hero – a macho who's really his grandmother's pet.
A friend from work dressed up as a bride
This grandmother – and this is all the film's plot amounts to – expects him to get a job and earn the respect of his fellows. He's also supposed to get married. His attempts at getting a job and social status fail dismally, but not for want of trying. He takes jobs as a pizza delivery man, drug salesman, airline steward and supermarket checkout clerk. In that job he annoys everyone with his comments about contraceptives – one certainly can't say that he's prudish – until they throw him out.
Recep Ivedik tries his luck with a cyberflirt, but he has no success with women either. So, at his grandmother's deathbed, he presents a friend from work wearing a disguise as his new bride. She dies happy, and Recep looks forward to opening her treasure chest, which has been promised to him if he fulfils his three tasks. But the chest is empty, except for a photo of his grandmother, grinning. This is the best scene in the film, where the promise of consumerism is replaced with a declaration of love.
The success of Turkish cinema
"I get my rewards from the audiences, I don't need any other prizes from anyone," Gökbakar is quoted as saying by the Turkish newspaper Zaman. His films are directed by his equally self-confident 25-year-old brother Togan. Theirs are not the only Turkish films to be rewarded by the public. Almost 40 percent of cinema tickets in Turkey are for local productions – which is a dream compared to other European countries.
As well as slapstick and the internationally respected art-house films, Turkey has developed another genre which is currently making lots of money: films which deal with historical material, and which often break taboos. The latest is "Güz Sancisi" ("Autumn Pains") by the director Tomris Giritlioglu. The film tells of a Turkish mob uprising against Istanbul Greeks in 1955. The film has attracted 540,000 viewers since it opened in Turkey on January 23rd. And that's another sensation.
© Süddeutsche Zeitung / Qantara.de 2009
Rece Ivedik 2. Turkey 2009 - Director: Togan Gökbakar. With Sahan Gökbakar. 114 minutes.