Movies are the mirrors of a city. And, as they reflect the various colours of local scenes, they can also be decent guides for those wanting to get under the skin of a place.
Istanbul, with no doubt, is a city of cinema. It has been the main natural plateau of Turkish cinema since the end of 1930s. The first filming ever done in Istanbul was made by a camera located on a boat afloat on the golden horn. Since that time, Istanbul with its Bosphorus, squares, streets, bridges, towers, neighborhoods, mansions and mosques has proved to be a rich and diverse cinematic setting and has become Turkey’s most significant cinematographic field of production.
If you enjoyed feeling the spirit of a city through the movies such as Roman Holiday, In Bruges or Before Sunrise, you might want to look at Istanbul, the city with seven hills, in the eyes of the seventh art. Let’s do the nostalgia glasses so we can have a look at Istanbul of bygone time in the old movies of Yeşilçam (Turkish cinema; the equivalent of Hollywood, named after a street off Istiklal Caddesi where many actors, directors, and studios were based).
Ah Güzel İstanbul (O Beautiful Istanbul), 1966
‘Ah Güzel İstanbul’ was written by Safa Önal and Ayşe Şasa, directed by Atıf Yılmaz and features Sadri Alışık and Ayla Algan. It’s a dark comedy that tells the story of an alcoholic street photographer and a young girl who flees from her village in order to become famous. It won the jury’s special Silver Tree award in the 10th Bordighera Festival of Comedy and Humor Films. We invite you on a black and white boat tour of the Bosphorus of 1966, before there were even any bridges.
Aşk Mücadelesi (Love Struggle), 1966
This movie was directed by Mehmet Bozkuş, written by Fuat Özlüer and produced by Türker İnanoğlu. It’s about the struggle of two young people in love. Ahmet and Zeynep live in the same district in Izmir, are in love and intend to get married. However, Zeynep’s mother is against their marriage. Ahmet goes to Istanbul to find a job where he meets his pal Musa who offers him as a driver to the drug smuggler, Fethi. Ahmet makes a lot of money and Zeynep and Ahmet get together in Istanbul. But life is never easy for two young lovers in the movies and the police are after Ahmet. Here are the first moments of Ahmet in Istanbul, on the bridge over the Golden Horn:
Kapıcılar Kralı (King of Doormen), 1967
Kapıcılar Kralı is one of the all-time favorite comedy movies of Turkey. The movie is also considered as one of the most memorable motion pictures of the career of Kemal Sunal (one of the most important actors of Turkish cinema). It was produced by Arif and Abdurrahman Keskiner and directed by Zeki Ökten. The movie achieved major local success, winning best director and best actor awards at 1977 International Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, making Kemal Sunal the the first comedy-genre actor ever to win the award. Kapıcılar Kralı is about the relations between a naïve-looking but cunning doorman and the occupants of an apartment in Cihangir (a neighborhood known as home to the city’s intellectuals and artists). Here is a scene from a morning run in Cihangir of those times:
Kardeş Kavgası (Brother Fighting), 1967
Kardeş Kavgası was written by Fuat Özlüer and produced and directed by Türker İnanoğlu. In the story, Doğan lives together with his sister Nuran, and they rent one room of their flat to Murat, a cab driver. Murat and Nuran fall in love and want to marry, but Doğan opposes it. Doğan falls in love with his boss’s mistress, Alev. Doğan gets fired and Alev leaves him. Doğan wants to rob his boss, and when the security guard tries to stop him he shoots him. And just to prove nothing ever goes right for young lovers in Turkish films, on his wedding night, Murat is jailed. Here’s a particularly romantic scene of Nuran and Murat in Beşiktaş:
İstanbul Tatili (literally meaning Istanbul Holiday, 1968) I previously mentioned Roman Holiday (1953) which featured Audrey Hepburn and Gregory and clocked up a few firsts: Hepburn won her first Oscar thanks to the movie; it was the first Hollywood production filmed outside of a Hollywood studio and in a European city. The charming film was very popular and Yeşilçam producers wanted to benefit from this popularity by making an adaptation of Roman Holiday. Istanbul Tatili features two huge names of Turkish cinema: Kartal Tibet and Filiz Akın. Here is a scene between the two main characters: a journalist and a princess:
Ağlama Değmez Hayat (1969) Ağlama Değmez Hayat was written by Fuat Özlüer and Safa Önal, directed by Mehmet Bozkuş and produced by Türker İnanoğlu. Osman is a cab driver who hits a blind and homeless girl named Sevim and subsequently falls in love with her. Osman and his friends resort to force to find the money for Sevim’s eye surgery. Sevim regains her eyesight, and becomes a famous singer. However, Osman is in jail. She continuously looks for Osman… There is a beautiful scene from the movie in which Osman describes the environment to blind Sevim, when they are somewhere near Bebek.
Hababam Sınıfı Tatilde (The Chaos Class is On Vacation, 1977)
Hababam Sınıfı (The Chaos Class) is a comedy film, directed by Ertem Eğilmez and featuring an ensemble cast including Kemal Sunal, Tarık Akan and Münir Özkul. Its subject is the adventures of a private school class of students who are challenged by the arrival of a new headmaster. The film, had a great success in Turkey and was followed by five direct sequels. In the third movie of the series, four female students come to the class. An eternal dispute between Hababam and the girls starts. In the scene below, the girls, seeking revenge, make an appointment with Hababam in Taksim Square. The boys are unaware that they are being deceived:
Bonus: Tabutta Rövaşata (Somersault in a Coffin, 1996)
Let’s wind forward time a little bit. We are now at the end of the 20th century in Istanbul. Tabutta Rövaşata was written and directed by Derviş Zaim. The movie is about Mahsun who is a homeless criminal and car thief living around Rumeli Hisarı. It’s a drama which originated from real people and spaces. Tabutta Rövaşata received awards at several international film festivals including the Golden Orange for best film at the Antalya International Film Festival. I have to say that Tabutta Rövaşata is, without doubt, one of my favorite Turkish movies. I think the soundtrack of the film made by Baba Zula is quite impressive, as well. In the video below, we see Mahsun in different parts of Istanbul; around Rumeli Hisarı and Bebek, in a boat on the Bosphorus, on the Goldern Horn Bridge with his peacock. Yes, peacocks are also part of marvelous cast of Tabutta Rövaşata:
I think cities and cinema are inseparable and Istanbul provides scenic proof of this. You can feel the spirit of the city, get to know about it and watch its transformation through cinema. The movies above are only a selection picked from my personal experiences. Perhaps you know of some other movies that capture the Istanbul of past or present. Share your favorites below and let’s watch Istanbul through some other directors’ eyes.