Yesilcam: S1 Episode 5 Review #AskNerdeCesetNerde
[These reviews were originally published on Cagatay Ulusoy North America website as the show aired in 2021, but I'm also posting copies here for my records. Maybe my readers will someday enjoy finding this show, which is one of the most intelligent Turkish series I have watched]
Where is Love, Where is Body
In this episode we get a full frontal introduction into why Semih Ates claims himself to be a “Cinema Hayvani” or a Cinema Animal, which relates to the full title of the series, Yesilcam: A Cinema Animal. As Mr. Cantek tells us in our interview with him last week, he was interested in creating the protagonist as a producer because of all the different personalities and situations he has to successfully navigate within the intersection of competing interests, and we see this as Semih appeases his investor, keeps his author motivated, manages the tantrums from his temperamental actor(s), is the loudest cheearleader for their successes and keeps pushing his team to perform to their best within their constraints. He is a layered man who is haunted by the demons of his past, and these themes are woven into the story ingeniously.
Trust Is Earned, Not Given
Semih’s plan is to make the socialist story written by Turgut with the money he gets from Izzet, but complete the movie quickly so that he can use the revenues to make the movie Izzet really wants. Izzet is a political animal who is being groomed to rise the ranks in his party, and he understands the value of cinema in swaying public opinion. Using his financial strength as a weapon, he wants to use Semih’s talents to create the stories of his choice. The two men are instinctively distrustful of each other and Semih relies on an actor to take Turgut’s place in a face to face meeting with Izzet. He wants to keep Turgut and his communist beliefs protected from politicians with vested interests, who can either persecute him or exploit him.
Izzet comes to understand some of the hidden games, and the plot thickens on how this will impact Semih and the evolving territorial dance among Semih, Izzet and Reha.
A Kept Man
We get insight into Reha, whose wife comes from money and helped to bankroll his production business. His calculating ruthlessness is as much driven by his need to be top dog as it is to prove to his wife that he is worthy on his own. His dalliance with Mine is an outlet from his loveless marriage. Even though he knows in his heart that Mine loves Semih, it is a power play for him to have Mine at his beck and call. His need to assert his financial prowess, which is something he is unable to do with his financially independent wife, manifests itself into his business practices. He invests in ways he can neutralize the threat from Belkis.
Yassiada: A Long Shadow
Feeling exposed by Belkis and her knowledge of his affair with Mine, Reha digs into Beliks’ past and discovers that Belkis no longer has the backing of the men in power in the administration. She had been strongly tied with administrators of Adnan Mederes’ government led by the Democrat Party, a bureaucracy that was felled in the military coup of 1960. Adnan, along with several of his cabinet members, were arrested and put on trial in 1961, in Yassiada. Yassiada is one of the Princes’ Islands off Istanbul, and since been renamed to Plati.
Reha comes to understand that Belkis is not as formidable as she used to be and, in fact, she escaped her own trial during Yassiada. Not knowing of her connection to Semih, or lacking any information related to her biological family, Reha threatens to make her life miserable if she does not back away from using her knowledge of his affair. We are yet to see how Belkis, a woman who is no stranger to surviving the filth of Istanbul, will react to such threats. What does she have to lose?
Semih: A Cinema Animal
In an interview with Alex and Zeynep Sutherland, who were involved with the production of The Protector, Zeynep had said “The job of a producer is very well suited to a mother (I have twin boys) as you have to nurture the needs of all the stakeholders on set through good dialogue while setting firm guidelines.” While Semih is not a mother, one can see how he has to actively nurture everyone and be very quick to judge character. He is driven by his goal to make a movie and enlists the available but temperamental Erhan as the lead actor.
Cleary not as successful as Ayhan Isik, and with a chip on his shoulder about it, Erhan’s melodramatic turn by Devrim Nas is comic gold. His scenes poke fun at every prima donna in the industry and illustrates how vanity is often the reason for their fall. Semih cleverly and calmly manipulates the situation to make Erhan responsible for his follies, and thus illustrates how good of a manager a producer needs to be. They need to learn to delegate to trusted team members, but at the same time cannot lose sight of the important details on and off set.
While Semih gets lost in his pursuits, it becomes obvious how much he still yearns for Mine. With Tulin in the picture, Mine is aware of the danger of Semih finding greener pastures as she has kept herself unavailable, and she starts to openly flirt with Semih while making suggestive statements. And, he is affected.
Semih’s partiality towards Mine is not shown in overt ways but in artistic ways befitting the depth of this production. At the end of the shooting for their movie, Semih has a moment with Tulin, where he hands her a single white rose, telling her that hopefully it will be a moment she will remember. He is giving her a token of his appreciation for completing the project, an accolade from an employer to a valued employee. He respects Tulin for her innocent but firm ways, and watches her set her boundaries in a world where sexual favors seem to be expected as a means to move ahead.
On the other hand, on the same day, he sends a big bouquet of white roses to Mine for the completion of his first project at Great Ates Film. It is a symbol of his achievement shared with a woman whose good opinion he values. However, as mentioned in my review for episodes 3 & 4, Semih and Mine hide a lot from each other and it remains to be seen if their love is deep enough to forgive all the ways they have betrayed the other’s trust. Will Semih ever be able to see Mine in the same way when he learns of her relationship with Reha?
The Past Touches The Future
Through several flashbacks, we have been shown about Semih’s shameful involvement in the Istanbul Pogrom and how he might have played a part in the destruction of Uncle Costa, the man who instilled the love for cinema in Semih. In present day, he sees Uncle Costa at every turn, and seeks his approval. With every kind gesture he extends or when he makes decisions out of a true love for cinema, he imagines his Uncle Costa, and imagines his pride in Semih. Through his actions and choices, it seems Semih is on a path of atonement, the depth of which is still unveiling through every episode.
We end episode 5 on Semih opening his door to a figure from his past, someone who seems aware of the part Semih played in the Pogrom. What effect it will have upon Semih’s future or how it will shift his position within Yesilcam remains a mystery to be unraveled in later episodes.
It is this quality of exposing a layer at a time that keeps the audience guessing about plot directions, is what makes Yesilcam a masterful production. Cagatay’s acting is great, and Semih provides him a breadth of tools to employ – starting from discerning to profound to heartfelt to mischievous to comic - but the other characters are also played well. Bora Akkas as Hakan is a revelation; he is an impish, competent Casanova with a heart of gold, and to convey all of that through a few select scenes and dialogue is an efficient character development on screen. One cannot help but find him endearing.
Afra Saracoglu as Tulin is yet to spread her wings but Selin Sekerci as femme fatale Mine is very well cast. Her external nonchalance and diva-like mannerisms hide a keen mind. During her marriage to Semih, she could not tolerate being second fiddle to his career and leaves him to build her own. Yet, there is a bond that ties them as one as they have both grown up in Yesilcam together.
This innate comfort in each other is communicated by glances, a slight nod, a suggestive smile, and Selin as Mine do these very well. There is a wistful expression on her face whenever Semih is around; he is not fully discarded from her life but neither does she see him as the one who can secure her future. I am hopeful that we see Semih truly grow as a person when he understands the fragility of their bond that he believes to be durable. True love does not betray to this depth and in this manner. The trailer for Episode 6 promises more intrigue as Belkis begins to play a more active role in the direction of her son’s life, and Semih has to navigate the resistance to his stories from different quarters. It is wonderful to see this world through a realistic lens of all the ways dreams can be as powerful as they can be tenuous, and how we all chase our dreams with varying levels of abandon, sometimes to our own detriment. I cannot wait until the next installment and derive greater insights into the world of cinema from the Yesilcam era.
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