S ine is a young architect based in Istanbul. As the product of a heritage characterized by radical interruption and discontinuity, she aspires to a life that is informed by inherited values of history and tradition but combines continuity and change nonetheless. As an architect, she wonders whether styles of mosque that differ from the traditional structures handed down by history and culture are feasible. She looks into the question of designing a new and different building that embodies the idea of continuity through change. In the meantime, she also has to survive on a practical level. The trouble is, she isn’t too successful at this. Is there a way to survive, but also to be more than an ineffectual witness to what is happening in the world? If so, what is it? Sine has no ready answers to this challenging question. On the one hand, she longs to drop everything and run. On the other, she risks both her personal safety and her architectural career to help the residents of a social housing estate that has collapsed in a landslide. In order to reach out to the victims she launches a massive and spectacular awareness campaign that can be seen by all of Istanbul. Sine represents hope in spite of everything.
I n Dream (Rüya), I aim to draw on the culture and history of Anatolia to create a fresh cinematic narrative style. To my mind, there are various structural features of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture which have the potential to enhance the language of cinema; and I set out to give these a central position in order to establish the narrative structure of the film. The idea of continuity through change is central to the rhythm of Byzantine and Ottoman buildings, and it is an idea that I take as a basis for the film.
V ariation and repetition are two concepts I use at various levels of the film to illustrate the issue of continuity of tradition through change. Let me give an example. Analogous to the problematic of continuity through change, which is one of the core themes discussed, the central character is played by four different actresses in the course of the film. As different manifestations of the same character, these women sometimes react in different ways to similar situations according to the film’s dramatic structure. But they remain the same character. As these characters strive to preserve themselves despite so much change, the events they experience turn the film into a story of parallel universes. The film proceeds as a series of successive, but each time slightly different and therefore distinguishable shots, scenes and sequences. Both the film’s story of parallel universes and the style used in telling these stories correspond with the style of rhythm found in Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, which is characterized by continuity through change.
T he film possibly covers new ground so far as the nature of the audience’s gaze is concerned. That is to say, with respect to its visual structure, the film tells the audience that it isn’t in a fixed, dominant and controlling position in terms of gaze. On the contrary, the film’s narrative structure and visual style shift the supposedly fixed, unchanging, controlling position of the audience’s gaze. For example, whenever the three women characters change, the view of Istanbul from the windows of the office where they work also changes. The office, however, is still the same office. By way of a crude comparison, in the way it handles the audience’s gaze, the film is intended to create an effect similar to that evoked by the skull in Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors.
T he pursuit of alternative mosque architecture isn’t entirely foreign to the Islamic architectural tradition in Turkey, even if examples are few in number. A notable recent addition is the Sancaklar Mosque designed by the architect, Emre Arolat. Set in an outlying suburb of Istanbul, the mosque was named Best Religious Building at the 2013 World Architecture Festival in Singapore. As such, the Sancaklar Mosque provided crucial material for the project given its discussion of alternatives to, and variations on traditional architectural styles. It also meant that we incorporated the building of the mosque into the film. The shooting of the film was part of the building process. I should also add that the mosque’s physical resemblance to a cave was what inspired the link with the Legend of the Seven Sleepers.
T he story of the Seven Sleepers is a story from the Koran that tells of seven youths reawakening after a long slumber. As a variation on the resurrection motif, it has echoes in other faiths, among them Christianity and Judaism. The devout youths of the story face antagonism from the pagan community when they give voice to their beliefs. To escape punishment, they take refuge with their dog in a cave and fall asleep. By the time they wake again centuries later, the pagan era has ended and, with it, the repression of earlier years. Known as Kıtmir, the seven sleepers’ dog is widely believed to protect man from evil.
T he film inclines towards interpreting the Legend of the Seven Sleepers as a utopian philosophy. When the sleepers realize they won’t be able to achieve their utopia, they go to sleep in order to protect it. By sleeping, they endeavour to protect their existing dreams until this utopia comes into being. The character of the woman architect at the centre of the film longs to sleep in order to protect her humanitarian, professional and artistic utopias. However, she is thwarted in this by insomnia. Spurred by an unconscious impulse, she designs a space where she can sleep safely and comfortably and so, in turn, protect her utopias. The space bears a strong resemblance to a cave. The mosque, which brings to mind the legend of the Seven Sleepers, is the real-life Sancaklar Mosque. The building of the mosque happened to coincide with part of the film’s photography.