Volume 16, Number 22
March 23, 2010

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This Week

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gonca şahinA Shot From Cinema History

Every year hundreds of movies are released throughout the world. The film industry is in its golden age. In the rush of daily life it is sometimes difficult to follow new movies. In spite of the abundance of new films, I am a classics-lover. I watch the classics again and again without getting bored. I would like to mention two of my favorite directors: Vittorio De Sica and Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman was a Swedish director who lived between 1918 and 2007. Bergman's films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and religious faith. Some of his movies are: “The Silence,” “Wild Strawberries” and “The Seventh Seal.” Spectators of the Hollywood generation who have the tendency to expect everything to be handed to them on a silver plate will not welcome the embedded symbolism in his movies. This symbolism makes you watch the same movie a few times to grasp the hidden meaning. In each time you become closer to the secret, but you never find what he actually means. That's the beauty that leaves the meaning up to your imagination. I warn you to bear the heavy melancholy of his movies, which takes you from the real life to the virtual one full of complicated questions about existence. You may find yourself while you are playing chess with Death.

De Sica is an Italian director who lived between 1902 and 1974. He was the director of many award-winning movies from the Berlin Film Festival to Cannes. I have just had the opportunity to watch two of his films: “Bicycle Thieves (1948)” and “Umberto D. (1952).” These movies are masterpieces of the wave of Italian neo- realism in cinema history. Ideologically, the characteristics of Italian neo-realism were an emphasis on the value of ordinary people, a refusal to make easy moral judgments, a preoccupation with Italy's Fascist past and its aftermath of wartime devastation, a blending of Christian and Marxist humanism and an emphasis on emotions rather than abstract ideas. The main themes are poverty, desperation and changing moral values. The films are life itself. The stage is the war-weary streets of Rome. The actors are the ordinary people of a wartime generation. What you hear is not  literary speech, but the language of daily life. Under these circumstances you feel as if you are watching a documentary film. De Sica explains his concern in his movies: “My films are a struggle against the absence of human solidarity . . . against the indifference of society towards suffering. They are a word in favor of the poor and unhappy.”

As a student of international relations, I am quite familiar with world political history. I’ve read dozens of articles about WWII, however, none of them was that much influential in saying anything about the impacts of post-war conditions on ordinary people. What is written in the history books is the history of elites. It is not the history of you and me. You cannot learn about how the people on the streets overcome the tragic results of death, unemployment and hunger. Literature and cinema stand for reflecting the humanitarian side of history.

There are many directors who made classic movies from Sergei Eisenstein to Orson Welles. Each tried to reflect the reality of their time from a specific perspective. Would it not be nice to go through the history of world politics with classical movies, to discover the history of the people on the street, just once?


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