Reviews - Selam
Reviewed By Vaughan Ames
In practise, films are very hard to see before release, so a few of us pour over critics reviews from various magazines and websites, trying to find films that look interesting, that wouldn’t get shown in Keswick if we didn't chose them. Often we have special difficulty finding "feel good" movies as these tend to be more "mainstream" and are shown anyway, so when we found Selam we were pleased because it seemed to tick these boxes and more - it was also a Turkish film, which are rare and hardly ever shown here and it was by a first time director, so worthy of our support. The basic plot seemed to look interesting and, yes, "feel good" – three young Turkish teachers fly off to foreign lands to help educate poor children. There was very little we could find to read as most of the reviews were in Turkish, but we are used to that problem; the decision was made to go for it.
Each week we have an introduction to the film for our audience. By the time we came to research this (and the notes that go on our website), more information was available and it was, to be frank, a bit worrying – the good news was that this is the most expensive Turkish film made (so it might be good), but the bad news was that these 'three young teachers' weren't just teachers; they were working for the "Gülen movement". Followers of an Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen, Wikipedia has them down as ‘a transnational religious and social movement. The movement is active in education (with private schools in over 140 countries) and interfaith dialogue; and has substantial investments in media, finance, and for–profit health clinics. The movement has been described as a "pacifist, modern-minded Islam, often praised as a contrast to more extreme Salafism". Although the director, Levent Dimirkale, does not appear to be part of this movement, he was obviously inspired by it; what were we about to show??
Well, we needn't have worried about any clever brainwashing it might have attempted to instil; subtle, it wasn't! As one person said to me as we left the cinema, "it was like being nagged at by a pious mother". From beginning to end, the message was virtually written on the screen. For me, the redeeming factor was that the message seemed to be at least pleasant – a sort of hippie Islam where all we needed to do was stop hating anyone, start loving everyone and all our problems would disappear. Wouldn't that be nice?!
The three young people gave up their lives in Turkey (two of them were actually in love with each other, but chose to go to totally separate countries for some reason not described) to go to teach normal lessons, at least on the surface, though they seemed to be much keener to try to pass on "peace and love" to their students. Adem, who went to work in Sarajevo, tried so hard to mend the political splits between two Bosnian students that he eventually drowned rescuing them both from the raging river rather than "decide which one was the more worthy". Zehra, working with young children in Afghanistan, chose to stay and do the work one of her students had to do at home, giving up a chance to go back for a trip to Turkey so that her student could go instead. Meanwhile a young black boy in Senegal, who hated all white people because they had allowed his sister to die, was so moved – apparently just because Harun was playing football with his black students - that he became his best friend and confident. As I said, subtlety did not enter into this film!
Unfortunately, this "in your face" goodwill message, did rather spoil the film, even as a film; it was hard to take it all very seriously. Gradually, for me at least, the film’s beautiful idea of the potentially great world we could live in, did start to make me wish the well-meaning teachers and their students success. Not surprisingly, I wasn't disappointed - the plot managed a real soap-like "happy ending". Harun and Zehra were reunited in Turkey, when the two students they had taken back there for an Olympiad both chose to sing the two lover's favourite song; sweet!
That is about all the good news I can bring, though. It was the director's first film, but the script and the amateur acting didn't help him much. There were a couple of pretty scenes with the stars in the sky behind the actors, maybe, and some clever camerawork to merge the three teachers as they walked down the airport corridor (to show that their story was all one). As always, the audience had many different reactions – from "the worst film I have ever seen" to "excellent, a heartfelt movie", but overall it didn't score well. Ah well, we can't get them all right! It is the fun of the film club that there are such diverse films to be seen.
Next week we go to RHEGED to see Baraka on the big screen there. This is Ron Fricke's previous film to Samsara that we loved last year, so fingers crossed for a good night out next Sunday.
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