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[Herald Interview] For young people today, life is ‘Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster’
Turkish director in competition at Jeonju IFF expresses feeling of the ‘cursed generation’By Kevin Lee Selzer
Published : May 9, 2023 - 20:37
JEONJU, North Jeolla Province – "Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster" is a "film about unhappy people, but not in a dark way," Turkish director Umut Subasi told the audience at its Asian premiere at the Jeonju International Film Festival in North Jeolla Province on April 28.
The festival had described it as a “depression comedy.”
"Humor is a survival tool," Subasi explained.
Set in Istanbul, "Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster" revolves around young adults Ayse, Zeynep, Mehmet and Ali, who encounter and interact with each other in nearly every permutation, be it through stretches of coincidence.
Each of them is stuck in an ordinary and unsatisfactory existence, and each has a different way to cope with it, clinging to some form of hope or escape.
Ayse wonders if she can pass as not being Turkish while she applies to study abroad. Ali fills in the bubbles of lottery tickets. Mehmet keeps an eye out for extramarital entanglements. Zeyneb, meanwhile, follows astrology online and looks to the stars -- literally from the apartment balcony, though none seem to appear in the metropolis night's sky.
In moments alone when the weight of life's severity is acknowledged, each of them also suddenly bursts into wails and tears.
It’s not so much that they’re searching for a purpose in life – that was a luxury afforded to older generations. With a bittersweet tone infused with humor throughout, these characters are grasping to find even a small bit of meaning.
For Subasi, there was no essentially no other story he could tell for his debut feature.
“Making a film about unhappy young people in Turkey was so clear for me, it was the only thing that I want to make a film,” the director told The Korea Herald in an exclusive interview on April 29.
“I started to think and start to build the structure in probably the middle of 2019,” he said about the origins. He had completed four short films already since 2013, and felt comfortable in that form.
“When you make short films, everyone expects from you a feature. It’s something ridiculous, but it’s a thing,” Subasi explained. “It’s completely different from me.”
Just as the director had started to dig into his transition to the full feature form, the world was abruptly transitioning itself with sudden COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Actually, in the pandemic, writing was more relaxing for me,” the director confided, “because everybody (was in) lockdown.” “Less pressure,” the film’s producer and Subasi’s partner, Cemre Erul, sitting next to him emphasized to The Korea Herald. The filmmaker now had the time he needed to make sure nothing was missed.
The director added he did not feel the need to rewrite to factor in the desperation felt during the pandemic because he had felt the desperation he needed to express in Turkey for already 10 years or more.
“And thankfully it didn’t affect the production,” Erul added. The film was shot in just 13 days in January 2022, as the omicron wave was sweeping through. “We actually got the news that everybody in the crew got COVID on our final day of shooting, so we were very lucky,” she added with a wry smile.
After the film’s first screening in Jeonju, the director empathized with those in the audience who felt stuck in similar situations in Korea about the “bad destiny of this generation all around the world.” The next day alone with The Korea Herald, he doubled down, adding it is only getting worse for younger people. “Almost 20 years ago, I think everything was easier,” he said. “For Turkey it’s more complicated because economical, social, political, cultural – life – is getting harder and harder.
“And young people feel the pressures on their shoulders every day. Every moment of the everyday life.”
“Each character has their own escape way,” Subasi said, relating the film to the real-world situation, “but I think it does not work.”
Having been involved in “Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster” in practically every way – writing, directing, editing – and premiering it in Rotterdam, Netherlands just a year after shooting, followed by the festival circuit, the director has not yet had the space to think about what’s next.
“I want to make personal films, I want the film to represent me,” Subasi stressed. “The most important thing in the film for me: the tone.”
However dark the actual situation, for the Turkish director, “Humor is my way out – or escape.”
Umut Subasi’s “Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster” was in competition with nine other foreign films in the international section at the Jeonju International Film Festival. This year’s event, in its 24th year, invited 247 films from 42 nations. The film festival closed Saturday.
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