Review: Interview Semih Kaplanoglu (“Honey”)

Interview Semih Kaplanoglu (“Honey”)

Amsterdam, Eye Film Institute, Wednesday 18 August 2010

Turkish filmmaker Semih Kaplanoglu won the Golden Bear in 2010 with ‘Honey’, the third – or is it the first? – film in his Yusuf trilogy. In the Yusuf trilogy, which in addition to ‘Honey’ consists of ‘Milk’ (‘Süt’) and ‘Egg’ (‘Yumurta’), we get to know Yusuf, a Turkish poet, at different stages of life. The three films are partly based on Semih’s own childhood and experiences. During his visit to Amsterdam, we get the opportunity to sit down with this enthusiastic filmmaker. “If I hadn’t become a filmmaker, I would have become a poet, just like Yusuf.”


To start, we ask Semih what the best order is to watch his trilogy. After all, he made ‘Honey’ last, but in it the main character, who returns in all films, is still just a child. Doesn’t it make sense to start with that movie right? The director explains that his intention was to make a psychoanalytic retrospective. “The idea is that you first see how Yusuf stands in life, so as ‘Egg’ shows. Then you see him at the age of eighteen in ‘Milk’ and finally you end up with ‘Honey’, with the still young Yusuf. It’s like going to a psychiatrist who digs further and further into your life to see how you’ve become the person you are today. That’s what I want to show with the Yusuf trilogy.”


“Every element of my films is important. Together they form a framework, a framework. As a result, a leaf on a tree can be just as important as an actor. I try to portray everything in harmony and I want to direct everything I see.” Post-production and music are also part of this, according to the director. “It’s like trying to make music and on my own I’m a whole orchestra. Suppose there is someone in an orchestra who is not doing his job properly? Then he manages to rape the entire piece of music. I want to avoid that, so everything is under my supervision during the making of the film,” explains Semih.

Although Semih describes himself as someone who wants to be in control while directing, he has occasionally made adjustments to the screenplay during filming. “With ‘Egg’ I changed certain aspects to better establish the connection between the three films, so that it became even more of a whole. I also used stories from an actor I spoke to on set in the film.”

Semih has mixed feelings about the end result of his hard work. “I often try to avoid it, but sometimes I see my productions on TV. Watching my films in a full room with a different audience is really not my cup of tea. When I see something back, I have taken a certain distance from the film. This one stands more on its own. I can then see things that I did wrong, or would do differently now, but luckily I also see beautiful things,” laughs the director.


A very important point for the cinematographer is the difference between traditional and modern life. “I prefer to see a harmony between these two worlds. We must respect traditions, not abandon them.” In the trilogy, however, Semih clearly shows that traditions are disappearing more and more. Semih explains: “Traditions are increasingly lost in present-day Turkey. Back in the day when I traveled around Europe I could tell the difference between countries. Now you can’t tell from the street signs whether you are in Italy, Germany, France or the Netherlands. I also notice that in Turkey.” The director regrets that. “If we continue like this, everything will become standardized. Because of this we will lose ourselves, we will become more and more alike. The uniqueness of man disappears. Of course I understand that we can no longer live like two hundred years ago, but there has to be a balance, a synthesis. We have a lot to do with this process in Turkey. Only when we can find a synthesis between modern times and traditions can we create something new. Otherwise we lose our inner self.” In his films Semih portrays this by showing that the traditional way of production is being lost: small towns that are subject to change. “That is my intention, yes. However, I do not know to what extent I have succeeded in doing so. Only time will tell.”

The Big Bang Theory

Semih has his own philosophy about life and time. “Life started with the Big Bang. I think we’re still living in that Big Bang, it’s not over yet. Our creator has said, “Exist”, so we cannot help but exist. We will continue with that. That to me is the perception of time. It always keeps going. With his film style (slow, long shots) Semih wants to emphasize that there is a unity of time. “Time and life is one with death.”

Spiritual Realism

For his trilogy, the talented director has come up with a genre: spiritual realism. “If we focus too much on the spiritual, it becomes fantasy. And if we overemphasize realism, it is robbed of everything spiritual. There has to be a balance between them.” As an example Semih mentions monks. “They don’t want to commit sins, so they lock themselves up. They flee from life. As Muslims we are in the midst of life, but we also want to live like monks. And that’s not easy. We must be busy with our faith, but also lead normal lives. Balancing them is very important, it has to be intertwined. I can only describe that with the term ‘spiritual realism’.


Semih has nothing good to say about what passes for entertainment these days. “A film is only good if it touches your heart. But people go to the movies to see violence and blood and sexy people. Sex is equated with love. For me, all films that show the opposite are important. Film should be aesthetic. It should arouse emotions.” The filmmaker hates that we live in a world where murderers and thieves are glorified. “It’s like living in a barren desert. We teach children to kill people by pressing a button on their Playstation. I think the cinema should go against that. We have to give back to humanity the old honor, the beautiful old feeling. Even if only one person goes to such a film, we have already won something.” Semih indicates that he is concerned about the tendency in which violence seems to be becoming normal. “It makes you so blunt. What you see on the screen is what you see when you look out into the world. So that’s how we have become. That’s a problem isn’t it?” Films that the director can appreciate because they make the viewer think and arouse emotions are, for example, ’35 Rhums’ by Claire Denis, ‘Stellet Light’ by Carlos Reygadas, ‘Aleksandra’ by Aleksandr Sokurov and ‘Café Lumière’ by Hou Hsiao-hsien. Let’s add ‘Egg’, ‘Milk’ and ‘Honey’ by Semih Kaplanoglu to that.

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