Although his name and origins are undoubtedly Turkish, film director and screenwriter Ferzan Ozpetek is definitely an Italian citizen. Having ignored his father’s willing to send him to the United States for university, he moved to Rome at the age of seventeen to study History of Cinema. He never went back since. The majority of his films, indeed, not only are set in Italy, but inevitably reflect the huge influence that the stay in this country had on him.
Ozpetek’s stories are dreams about his own life, what he has seen and experienced through years. Love, mainly homosexual, friendship, struggle, secrets. His characters are weird, eccentric, often unlikely but yet so pure and neat. Protagonists always get lost, they go through deep crisis and cathartic journeys to find themselves again, transformed, at the end of the film. In his last book, You are my life, Ozpetek reveals part of the truth hiding in his films: from transexual Vera, who used to host big Sunday lunches in Rome when he was a student, to his friend who thought his house was populated by ghosts or the one whose gay partner was married to a woman and had children.
Homosexuality is a core element in almost all of his films. Italy needed a Turkish to get rid of the homosexuality taboo. The subject had been introduced in Italian cinema by some of the greatest directors of Neorealism such as Luchino Visconti and Ettore Scola, as well as by one of the country’s most important intellectuals Pier Paolo Pasolini, in his numerous films and books, but the one who deepened it was Ferzan Ozpetek. The gay kiss in Saturn in Opposition has been one of the first scene representing the intimate life of a homosexual couple. The way Ozpetek depicts gay love is as authentic and natural as the feelings he portrays on the screen, all somehow coming directly from his personal experience. Often obstacled and secret, homosexual relationships in the Turkish director’s movies sometimes seem to even contrast and challenge the heterosexual world. Ozpetek gay characters are not only claiming equality and respect, they sort of rise at a superior level: in both Hamam and His secret life, men cheat on their female partners with another man. The director was a young student during the seventies and the eighties: he breathed the air of freedom and revolution of those decades but he also lost many friends because of HIV. Such stories seem to give voice to an interior anger that can be coming those years.
Ozpetek’s soul appears to be split into two: his home land and beloved city of Istanbul and the country which welcomed him as a young student and where he eventually built a successful career. His double root is revealed in a sentiment of nostalgia with to two nationalities. To his childhood, the colors and vibes of its memories he devoted his first film, Hamam, which was awarded “Un certain reguard” at Cannes. Clearily Turkish are also the spontaneity and loudness of some characters and certain atmospheres: scenes full of energy and strange people recall nothing but Istanbul, a place where you can make any kind of odd meetings. From his adoptive motherland, he took the language, evocative locations and actors. He never forgets to quote one of his favorite Turkish poets, Nazim Hikmet, he always uses some Italian meaningful songs.
What one can expect from an Ozpetek film is a perfectly working mix of melancholic tones, bizarre characters and inspiring scenes of human bonding, all surrounded by Mediterranean vibes. Turkish and Italians fight over this great director, but what is truly important is to prevent him from leaving his origins for major productions. Fortunately, as he stated many times when interviewed, he doesn’t like to go further than Rome and Istanbul.Ozpetek’s new film, releasing in 2016, is based on his famous book Red Istanbul, a story in which a lot of his own life and personal history can be found. Looking forward to be fascinated by his next story!
Written by Vittoria Paglino