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It takes considerable cojones to introduce a film with a title-card proclaiming “this year’s masterpiece” — even if the intention is self-mockingly ironic — especially if the ensuing enterprise falls as far short of said lofty status as Cem Kaya‘s Remake Remix Rip-Off. An overlong, perplexingly unfocused, intermittently hilarious and (very) occasionally insightful trawl through Turkish pop-cinema of the late 20th century, it’s a textbook example of why first-time directors shouldn’t edit their own material.
Co-produced with German television, Kaya’s feature-length debut could, however, conceivably click with diaspora viewers keen to revel in easy nostalgia regarding the VHS era. Festivals seeking undemandingly audience-friendly fare may take the bait, but in its current form the picture ranks among the year’s more frustrating missed opportunities.
Kaya, a Berliner of Turkish background, took co-directing credit (with Gokhan Bulut) on 2010’s hourlong Arabesk, a survey of an Istanbul working-class musical genre, also funded with German TV coin. Here he dramatically widens his scope to take in several decades of Turkey’s cinematic output, with a particular emphasis on the quickie remakes of American movies which filled cinema seats from the sixties through the nineties.
Often gloriously low-tech in terms of production values and hazardous in terms of on-set safety standards, these unofficial, unauthorized copies are wittily and extensively excerpted. Kaya socks over volleys of cheesy action, steamy romance and eye-popping sci-fi, with every genre inescapably peppered with fisticuffs. “Everyone wants award-winning films these days,” someone remarks, perhaps pondering the Cannes-honored likes of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. “Back then … a film had to have six brawls.”
The “originals” ripped off range from The Wizard of Oz (its “remake” inexplicably delayed until 1971) and Some Like It Hot (given the Turkish treatment in 1964) to E.T., Rocky and, perhaps most ludicrous of all, The Exorcist. Glimpses of these garish retreads are a reliable source of guffaws, but rather than probe deeper into the specifics of “copy-culture”, Kaya flies off on tangent after tangent with wearying results.
There’s reportage about the controversial and imminent demolition of a much-loved cinema, an investigation of exhaustion among TV soap-opera crews, and various potted histories of Turkish movie-making which generally have nothing to do with the the “remake, remix” remit indicated by the title. Talking-head interviews with participants (MVP: veteran director Cetin Inanc) are dutifully interpolated into the clip barrage.
And while the anecdotes are invariably genial and amusing, a proper sense of the wider social, economic and cultural contexts remains tantalizingly elusive. What haltingly emerges is a general overview of Turkish popular cinema from the 1960s to the 1990s, a much bigger subject than can be comfortably accommodated within the picture’s two-hour canvas: This is plainly a huge, chaotic industry, and cries out for a proper, multi-episode television survey to do it proper justice.
Kaya, however, can’t decide whether he’s illustrating via microcosm or wrestling with the full macrocosm. When he finally regains the thread of the copy-culture concept in the closing minutes, it’s much too late to get such an outsized, overladen ship back on even keel.
Production companies: UFA Fiction, ZDF
Director/Screenwriter/Editor: Cem Kaya
Producer: Jochen Laube
Cinematographers: Tan Kurttekin, Meryem Yavuz
Sales: UFA Fiction, Potsdam
No rating, 110 minutes
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