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A portrait of Ayse Polat "German Films Quarterly"

Most people on the German film scene probably first heard of director Ayse Polat when she won two prizes at the International Film Festival of Locarno in 2004: the Silver Leopard for her film "En Garde" and also the prize for Best Actress, which was shared by her two leading actresses.

"En Garde" tells the story of two girls and their friendship, but it is also about self-discovery; an unusual form of “coming-of-age” film. “As I saw it, the film centered on the development and metamorphosis of the main character, Alice,” says Polat. “The way she is liberated from her inner imprisonment.”

Even before the prizes she won with "En Garde", Polat had been spoiled by success. She has won several awards for each of her two feature films and three short films to date. Most striking of all, it is very rare in Germany for a filmmaker to enjoy long-term success when he or she has never attended film school and “only” acquired filmmaking skills as an autodidact – and even more so in the case of a woman.

Her short films already delineated specific thematic fields that were to become important for her subsequent feature films. "Fremdennacht" was about the spectacular suicide of Turkish asylum-seeker Kemal Altun in 1983. "Ein Fest für Beyhan" tells the story of a Turkish girl who runs away from home. "Gräfin Sophia Hatun" is based on the factual case of a married noblewoman who was kept prisoner by her husband for many years in the 18th century. One of her servants was Turkish.

It is also possible to recognize a great interest in reality in Polat’s work, and in stories that can be understood as parables of freedom. “I simply make films about myself and things that I know. It is only natural that experiences of the family and my origins play a part – but alongside a lot of other themes. Sure, migration is a formative experience, but you experience a lot of other things in life too, things that are just as formative.”

But Polat does go on to say that there is a “female view” of things: “The way violence is handled is different, or the human body and relationships are treated differently. The portrayal of women is deeper, more multifaceted and complex.”

How can one best describe Ayse Polat’s directing style? “A Fellini fan, Satyricon is one of my favorite films,” Polat also cites Jarmusch, Cassavettes, Varda, Bunuel and Kubrick as prime role models; classics of author cinema, in other words. “The concept of the author film had very negative connotations in Germany from the 1990s on. To be honest, it is still sometimes considered a swear-word. I see this concept as representative of the best filmmaking tradition. It’s all about handling material with your own personal signature, from a viewpoint that is not predefined and falsified by issues such as ‘digestibility’ and ‘target group orientation’.”

From the time that she spent working in theater, Polat has a dislike for elitist attitudes like “a bourgeois vanity that takes itself so terribly seriously.” She finds this attitude in some German films as well. “'Low Profile' by Christoph Hochhäusler really impressed me,” Polat says. “It’s all about a vision: I love fantastic stories, a bold imagination with courage to dream, films that attempt to visualize the subconscious. On the other hand, I have problems with films that seek quasi to force their viewers into realism, films that develop a kind of morality regarding reality. I don’t think that you can arrive at truth via simple reality; you need digressions.”

Her new film is, for the first time, a comedy. "Luks Glück" tells the story of the German-Turkish Luk, who wins the lottery with his family. With the money, Luk wants to change his life, to finally be happy. But in the end, he realizes that he has to figure out just who he is first, before he can change himself and his life.

“I can’t really explain why I made the film as a comedy. There aren’t really certain topics that move me to write a story. At first, images appear, ones that touch me, a longing glance, a contradictory gesture, or an absurd encounter. Then, bit by bit, the story develops. And in the end a question arises, but one that doesn’t expect an answer, one that is simply happy remaining a question.”

Author: Ruediger Suchsland

Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH