HOPE (Yilmaz Güney, Serif Gören, 1970)

Perhaps still the preëminent masterpiece of Turkish cinema, and among cinema’s most trenchant portraits of desperate poverty, Umut revolves around Cabbar, a horse-driven cab driver who is dispossessed of his livelihood—a victim of classist authority when the police blame him after a reckless rich man runs over and kills his horse. However, Cabbar also is his own worst enemy in rejecting social justice as an aim, political action as a means, and in chasing instead chimeras, for instance, by pinning his hopes on lottery tickets and by searching for buried treasure under a dead tree, according to the “vision” of a holy elder. Umut (Hope) was both written and directed by the team of Yilmaz Güney, who plays Cabbar, and Serif Gören.
     Embedded in such debt that no one will lend him money to replace his dead horse, Cabbar is frantic over the welfare of his wife, five children and grandmother. It is impossible not to feel for him. However, this exceptionally clear-eyed film also shows how Cabbar contributes to his dire fate, which culminates in his endlessly spinning, blindfolded, his outstretched arms divining rods hoping to point to gold upon the next spin. Reviewers err when they say that Cabbar’s hope resolves into hopelessness. Deluded, even at the last Cabbar will not give up the ghost of his specious hope. Unmindful of the irony involved, he extends this state of his to the point of madness because the vision of his family starving to death back home burdens him with guilt!
      Kaya Ererez’s superlative, prize-winning black-and-white cinematography comprises both scenes of rough, gritty realism and those so softly, grayly poetical, keyed to Cabbar’s fanciful “hope,” they seem strays from French cinema’s “Tradition of Quality.”
     Best film, director, screenplay prizes at Adana.

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