One of Turkey’s most poetic and honored film directors, Omer Kavur, died this past May at the age of 61. For years Kavur had been battling lymph node cancer, but continued to make films through 2003 when his “Karsilasma” (Encounter) was premiered to critical acclaim.
Born in Ankara in 1944, Kavur studied film at the Sorbonne in Paris in the late 1960s, began making documentary films, and in 1979 made his first feature, Yusuf and Kenan. Since then he made a remarkable series of visually complex, powerful narratives that have common themes of memory and illusion. Motherland Hotel in 1986 gradually turns into a sequence of imagined encounters seamlessly linked to reality. The next year, in The Night Journey, a film director roams across the Anatolian landscape mixing images from his film-to-be-made with the people he encounters. With The Secret Face in 1991 Kavur vaulted into a mythic world of yearning and self-discovery. Scripted by Turkish modern novelist Orhan Pamuk, The Secret Face resonates with echoes of Chretien de Troyes and Richard Wagner, a Parsifal quest in our own time.
The Secret Face is breathtaking, but is exceeded by his next film Journey on the Hour Hand, which Kavur completed in 1997. Again there is a meticulous, almost documentary attention to details which roots the film in “reality.” But in Journey we discover a world where time can stop, and even fold back upon itself, with events and characters repeating their previous lives, loves, deaths. Again a clockmaker is the protagonist who repairs instruments that measure time.
Both The Secret Face and Journey on the Hour Hand are passionate love stories that contain fantastic elements, a benign association (or a cult?) in the former, and the folded fabric of time in the latter. In most other respects they occupy the same world we live in, with such details as automobiles, telephones, television, trains, etc. The fantastic elements are introduced early, or very late, but in an understated way that is matter-of-fact, something that is accepted by Kavur’s protagonists. And thus accepted by us.
The presence of clocks—public clocks in civic buildings and individual timepieces—is a signature motif for Kavur. Within the Turkish context they are also an emblem of the new era. Scores of clocktowers were erected at the end of the nineteenth century. Like the cinema and the airplane, they shaped the development of modern Turkish culture.
Finally, and one hopes this applied to Kavur himself, his later films end on a note of bliss, of acceptance. The different quests of his films end with his protagonists fulfilled, having found their way through “lost lands, forgotten towns.” And survival, beyond death; as Kerem (in Journey on the Hour Hand) writes in his diary, “feelings never die.”
Kavur had an in-person retrospective at Anthology Film Archives in November 2000, followed by a tour of his films to several American cities. His films were shown at Cannes and many international film festivals. He is survived by his wife Selma.
Robert Haller is Director of Collections at the Anthology Film Archives.
ContributorRobert A. Haller