MANY people are familiar with at least one film from Germany, France, or Italy, but it's unusual to run across films from the Republic of Turkey.
Each year, however, the city of Istanbul hosts an international film festival that includes a number of Turkish-made films. And because directors from other festivals scout new entries at such events, these films often crop up in festivals closer to home.
This is the case with two films from the 12th Annual International Istanbul Film Festival held last April. "Exile," directed by Mehmet Tanrisever, will be included in the Montreal Film Festival, which begins Sept. 9. The film was one of 13 Turkish films at Istanbul and the only one that reflected Islamic values. It focuses on the question of whether the Turkish Army should take responsibility for breaking up a Koran reading group.
The other film chosen for Montreal, Orhan Oguz's "Whistle If You Come Back," tells the bizarre story of a dwarf bartender and a transvestite streetwalker.
In fact, a large number of films at the Istanbul festival dealt with sexual issues. The winner for best Turkish film and best director was Yavuz Ozkan's "Two Women," a subtle and moving portrait of the relationship that develops between the wife of a prominent politician and the prostitute with whom he becomes embroiled.
"Balcony," a stylish but rather pretentious film, details the efforts of a theatrical company to mount a production of Jean Genet's play. The on-stage action mirrors the twisted sexual relationships among the actors. Another strange offering was "Daydreams of Miss Cazibe," winner of the special jury prize, in which a spinster creates an elaborate fantasy life.
The strong interest in adult themes is curious coming from a country that is 98 percent Muslim but which is nonetheless attempting to deal openly with modern sexuality.
Most of the Turkish films in the Istanbul festival described the difficulties of modern life and urban pressures. The popular "Berlin in Berlin" is the story of the complicated relationship between a Turkish family in Berlin and the German man who enters their lives and the tragic consequences that follow.
The most charming film in the festival was "Mercedes Mon Amour" (produced by Turkey, France, and Germany), which won a special award. The movie, six years in the making, is about a Turkish immigrant in Europe who attempts to drive his prize possession - a Mercedes - home.
* In addition to the two Turkish films shown at the Montreal Film Festival, the New York Film Society will showcase a retrospective of Turkish films next spring.