The last episodes of “Yeşilçam” deliver an extremely satisfactory first-season finale. Contrary to anticipations, the elaborate, fast-paced, and action-packed conclusion manages to tie most loose ends, with no major cliffhangers left behind.
Without a doubt, “Yeşilçam” is raising the bar for future Turkish TV series. A superior production, direction, and acting team of experienced professionals are investing their considerable talents in the service of a clever script, which seeks to educate as much as entertain. With only a few minor inconsistencies in the story, “Yeşilçam” is a thrilling ride, which only increases expectations surrounding the upcoming second season of the series.
ANALYSIS AND RECAP
The last two episodes of season one are virtually opposite. #9 illustrates the various stages of Semih’s excruciating walk of shame, while #10 offers a thrilling, rapid-fire sequence of extraordinary developments, which keep viewers on the edge of their seats till the very end.
Semih’s Walk of Shame. Episode 9 begins with Semih watching his office furniture being repossessed. He saves, however, his Mandrake top hat and gloves – an action suggesting that he still counts on his wit to get out of his predicament.
In the second installment of Semih’s walk of shame, Tülin comes to his office to inquire about Turgut. When she starts to argue, he responds with admirable self-control possibly out of guilt, regret, and shame. His patience with the young actress is surprising, given Semih’s notoriously short fuse. Tülin, however, behaves almost like a child, whose toy was taken away for no good reason. Her heartbreak prevents her from seeing why Semih is facing bankruptcy -- namely to protect her from the likes of Izzet and Vehbi.
For the third leg of his walk of shame, Semih visits Turgut in prison. He is clearly concerned about his friend and feels terrible for having involuntarily caused him to return to jail. Then, he stops by Rifki to plead Turgut’s cause. The rogue agent, however, informs Semih that the policeman, whom Turgut was meeting, is not only a communist but also a Russian spy. Hence Turgut’s case is unappealable. The combination of these successive blows causes the otherwise resilient Semih to experience a brief and uncharacteristic emotional breakdown.
Phase four of Semih’s walk of shame starts with a curious dream featuring all the people, whom he either betrayed or let down (Tülin, Nebahat, Turgut, and Costa.) Semih looks both relieved and happy watching them prepare dinner in his kitchen. At some point, Costa Amca warns Semih that he should not lose Tülin. Semih then looks at the young actress as if for the first time and begs her not to leave him. When Semih wakes up, he still feels Tülin’s tender touch on his neck. In all likelihood, his subconscious is telling him something that his mind has yet to grasp. Semih then rushes to Tülin’s door, only to be rudely denied entrance by Adviye.
Meanwhile, Izzet -- whose mental health seems to be rapidly deteriorating -- convinces himself in front of the mirror that he should marry the chubby but socially acceptable girl and, of course, take Tülin as his lover. He then goes on the offensive with Tülin, who accepts his attentions for her career’s sake despite being somewhat repulsed by the man. Despite his best efforts, Izzet is clearly unable to evoke the excitement, which she feels in Semih’s company.
Next, Izzet orders another porn flick from Faik, specifying that he wants the girl to look “worn out” and “hopeless” – exactly the fate awaiting any woman with the misfortune of getting involved with him. Seeking to make a quick buck, Faik buys Hakan’s porn film even if it is not quite up to Izzet’s stringent BDSM standards. When Faik delivers the movie, he also arranges to pimp its female protagonist (Ceylan) to the politician.
Hakan proudly brings the money he earned from the porn flick to Semih. Immediately suspicious, the producer enquires about its origin. Hakan, of course, lies and Semih eventually accepts the money to repay his debt with Izzet. In the fifth installment of Semih’s walk of shame, he is once again humiliated by the politician. At the height of hypocrisy, Izzet accuses Semih of lacking the necessary professional integrity and moral values to realize his nationalist movie.
While his life story remains still shrouded in mystery, Izzet’s behavior shows pathological features. Indeed, it might well fit the definition of “Dissociative Identity Disorder” -- a condition, which severely affects a person’s ability to connect with reality. This rare ailment is diagnosed in people, who exhibit two or more distinct identities, each characterized by completely different thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Because each personality controls an individual’s behavior at different times, the patient is often unaware of his/her condition.
Semih’s humiliation, however, does not end there. Next, in the sixth leg of his walk of shame, he receives a visit from Yakup -- the owner of an editing studio. The man accuses him of using his facilities to edit a porn movie. Realizing where his former brother-in-law’s money really came from, Semih fiercely denies his involvement but remains silent about Hakan’s. He also warns Yakup not to slander his reputation, or else. Next, Semih furiously reprimands Hakan for his initiative, which puts their profession at risk.
In the seventh and final stage of Semih’s walk of shame, it is Faik’s turn to humiliate him. Driven by his inferiority complex, the slimy photographer/pimp takes immense joy in Semih’s troubles. As Faik rants on, however, the producer cleverly notices that his Havana cigar is one of Izzet’s. Suddenly, the tables are turning in Semih’s favor. Impulsively, he runs to Izzet’s office just as Tülin is leaving. Semih is about to throw the politician’s words back into his face when Rifki luckily interrupts a conversation, which might have produced lethal consequences for the producer. Semih also finally understands the dangerous connection between Rifki and Izzet.
Semih now runs after Tülin and clumsily alerts her of the potential danger, which Izzet represents. Tülin listens but stubbornly rejects his warning, even after he promises to return the contract that ties her to his company.
Meanwhile, Rifki finds the hole in Izzet’s hotel room, which Faik employs to photograph the politician’s compromising rendez-vous.
Also, when the press starts to slander Mine on behalf of Sebnem, she tracks down her tormentor. Reha’s wife, however, warns the actress that she has every intention to continue her campaign of defamation until her reputation is in tatters. Mine is shaken to the core by her threat and seeks help from Belkis.
Hakan is drowning his woes at Erol’s bar, when Mükerrem (Ceylan’s pimp from episode 8) accuses him of damaging his “investment,” When Hakan comes face to face with a badly beaten Ceylan, he recognizes on her the same bruises that he noticed on Aysel. Next, Semih finds a desperate Hakan in his office. When the latter tells him that Faik pimped Ceylan to the same “bigwig,” who abused Aysel, Semih realizes that he is talking about Izzet. The two immediately go to Faik’s home, only to find him hanging from the ceiling of his darkroom.
Mandrake Strikes Back. Episode 10 opens with Faik’s burial. The photographer has no family, so the only ones in attendance -- and who pay for the arrangement -- are Semih and Hakan. The latter attempts to induce a resolute Semih, who maintains that Izzet killed both Aysel and Faik, to give up. He argues that to prevail over someone as powerful as Izzet is impossible for ordinary filmmakers like themselves. Worried about Tülin, Semih presses on. Meanwhile, Tülin and Izzet go out on another date. While still quite shy, the young actress seems, however, to be warming up to the politician.
The rest of the final episode is like a fast-moving game of chess. Izzet visits Turgut in jail to reveal that it was Semih, who informed the police about him. Turgut is surprisingly quick to accept Izzet’s version of the events. Herein lies the first inconsistency in this otherwise brilliant script. Why would communist Turgut unquestionably accept fascist Izzet’s word even before verifying the accusation with his old friend Semih? Even worse, why is Turgut -- in a sudden and uncharacteristic display of hypocrisy -- so ready to crucify Semih, when he was himself doing plenty behind the producer’s back?
Rifki pays an unexpected visit to Semih to inform him that Turgut is being released and that his movie with Tülin finally passed the censorship committee. Semih wonders why Rifki is helping him in breach of his partnership with Izzet. Two answers are possible. He either knows that the producer saw him in Faik’s apartment on the night the photographer died, or he is starting to question Izzet’s fitness for national leadership. To find out, Semih resorts to his thieving skills and breaks into Rifki’s apartment in the hope of finding compromising material on Izzet.
The next scene is one of the most important ones in the series. Nebahat drops by the office to say goodbye. She tells Semih that she will always remember him as a role model.
Nebahat: “Whenever a fire rekindles after it was seemingly extinguished, we need to appreciate the excitement that kept the flame alive and made it possible to revive it. You always have an answer, Semih Bey. You will start a new story. You’ll write and make movies again!”
She also tells him that she has accepted her forced departure because it ultimately cannot be helped. And while she wishes that Greeks and Turks could live together, she concedes that it has never worked out in the past, and is, therefore, unlikely to happen in the future.
The resignation in Nebahat’s statement represents the second inconsistency of the series. In earlier episodes, Semih remembers his (Greek) Costa Amca with great fondness and gratitude for taking him under his wing, when he was just a lost boy. Semih’s remorse for failing to save his mentor’s life during the 1955 Greek Pogrom is notable, as are his efforts to protect Nebahat, who represents his last link to Costa. His friendship with Turgut and his conflict with Izzet provide further evidence that, while adult Semih remains a con artist of sorts, he nevertheless actively defies nationalist, classist, and bigoted ideologies. When Nebahat announces her decision to leave Turkey, however, Semih unexpectedly turns fatalistic. Watching him quietly acknowledge his powerlessness in the face of rising Turkish nationalism is rather anti-climactic -- especially in a series that portrays him as the producer, who never quits.
In the next scene, however, Semih decides to take inspiration from Nebahat’s words. As a modest filmmaker, he recognizes that he is ill-equipped to confront fascism on a grand scale. However, he may still use his cinematic skills to thwart one particular fascist’s political ambitions. Working day and night, Semih completes a script entitled: “Cehennem Içimizde” (Hell Is Inside Us) featuring the villain Saffet, who – needless to say – is closely modeled after Izzet. If the latter can use a film to promote his nationalist agenda, then Semih too can resort to cinema to bring him down! Next, he rushes to Tülin’s to offer her the lead role. Still full of mistrust, the young actress politely declines.
Turgut meets with a comrade, who orders him to lay low and continue to work with Semih because their cause can use Yeşilçam as a propaganda vehicle. When the screenwriter reacts negatively, the comrade warns him not to let personal feelings interfere with the party’s objectives. Meanwhile, Hakan and Semih argue about “Cehennem Içimizde” and invite Turgut to read the script.
Reha and his wife are worrying about their missing daughter when they both receive a curious invitation from Belkis to meet in a dilapidated Istanbul neighborhood. Once there, the former courtesan leads them into an opium den of sorts, where they find Sezen lying semi-conscious on the floor. In typical Belkis fashion, she calmly informs Reha that Semih is her son and that she is willing to do anything for him. Fearful for his daughter’s (and his own) reputation, Reha agrees to stop persecuting Semih and Mine.
While at Erol’s, Semih gets the opportunity to search Faik’s car, where he finds compromising photographs of Izzet in the company of various women -- including Mine. When he warns her, Mine confesses that she is already aware of Izzet’s questionable predilections, because she has seen similar images in his hotel room.
Next, Semih breaks into Izzet’s suite, where he finds indeed a suitcase full of degrading pictures of young women. Suddenly, Izzet and Tülin enter and kiss, while Semih is watching. While not forced, the embrace is disappointing, pointing once again to the young actress' immaturity. What did she expect when she accepted Izzet's invitation to his hotel suite? They are thankfully interrupted by Rifki and a policeman, who is investigating Faik’s death. Tülin runs into Izzet’s bedroom, where Semih is hiding. With the evidence supplied by the compromising photos, he finally succeeds in convincing her of Izzet’s true nature.
Back in her apartment, Tülin reads Semih’s script and is shocked by the revelations it contains. In a sudden about-face, she accepts to star in “Cehennem Içimizde.” He is delighted but also warns her that she is about to embark on a difficult and perhaps dangerous path. Tülin replies that her only fear is that he might break her heart again. This is the moment when Semih finally realizes that he did not just let the young woman down, but also involuntarily crushed her dreams. Indeed, what Tülin wants more than anything else is to make movies with him – the producer she loves, who unfortunately has yet to take notice of her interest.
The way in which Semih looks at Tülin right there and then, and gently caresses her hair is what viewers have been waiting for since the start of the series. Indeed, Çağatay Ulusoy’s early success as an actor came, in no small part, thanks to his ability to portray intense romantic feelings onscreen through the unforgettable characters of Emir (in "Adını Feriha Koydum") Yaman (in "Medcezir"), and Barış (in "Delibal.") Alas, his recent roles in “Içerde,” “The Protector”, and “Paper Lives” offered quite little in terms of romance. This is why, after five long years, fans were looking forward to seeing Çağatay in a role that would put his big, dreamy, and incredibly expressive eyes in the service of seduction.
Unfortunately, season one of “Yeşilçam” includes only a few and isolated romantic sequences. While a great deal of chemistry is on display between Semih and Mine, her betrayal soon ruins their second chance at love. As far as Tülin is concerned, Semih’s interest in the young and naive actress appears, for the longest time, more paternal than romantic in nature. In short, it seems as if he is not that into her. Perhaps, for this reason, Semih is genuinely flabbergasted by the revelation of her feelings towards him. At the end of season one, however, the question that lingers in most viewers’ minds is whether an innocent young woman like Tülin can realistically inspire and sustain the passion of the mature and disillusioned Semih.
Back at home, Turgut congratulates Semih on his script but expresses surprise at his apparent disregard for the consequences. Turgut further warns him that, even if the movie passes the censorship, there might be no audience for it. Semih replies that he will attempt to secure the famous actor Yılmaz Güney, known for his leftist political sympathies, for the lead role of the right-wing Saffet.
Izzet gets hold of Semih’s script through Adviye and, after reading it, orders his men to seize the producer. Vehbi, however, gives advance warning to Hakan. Thus, Semih and Tülin manage to flee Izzet’s hitmen and take refuge in Belkis’ house. Tülin, of course, has no idea of the real connection between the older woman and the producer. Having recently learned that it was Belkis, who forced Reha to distribute his film, Semih reluctantly agrees to stay at his mother’s house. However, he also uses the opportunity to give her a piece of his mind. When Belkis reveals that she has seen his movies, he responds that cinema has been his only family since he was abandoned at a young age.
Belkis: “Everyone suffers. Some make it an excuse for their mistakes, and some become mature with the pain. Which one are you?”
Semih: “Since I grew up alone, I didn't have to report to anyone... So, I have never needed an excuse. Did I make mistakes? Yes, I did. But admitting my mistakes helped me forgive other people’s errors.”
Belkis: “Some people are always in debt...and others are always owed to. They live their entire lives feeling one way or the other. I think about it as well. How many people owe me, and how much I owe to others."
Semih: “I think that life owes me something. At the same time, I know that people, who feel that they are in debt, are usually the good ones.”
This is as far as this mother and son duo advance towards reconciliation in season 1. Semih ostensibly wants Belkis to admit her responsibility for his traumatic childhood, and perhaps ask him for forgiveness. The former courtesan, however, is not yet ready to do so. Nevertheless, she is indirectly expressing regret by protecting his career. Semih perhaps starts to realize it, when he finds the original copy of the “Two Sisters” script, which Reha and Vehbi had stolen from him, carefully wrapped into the blankets that Belkis hands him for the night.
Semih presses on with his plan, well aware that it constitutes his last chance to take down Izzet. Confident that Yılmaz Güney will agree to star in his movie, he organizes a press conference at the Saray Cinema with the famous actor to introduce “Cehennem Içimizde” to the public. With fans and the media eagerly anticipating the movie’s release, Semih hopes that Izzet may think twice before sabotaging the film or attempting on his life. Just as he is about to lay down to sleep, Tülin suddenly appears and kisses him. Taken at first by surprise, he eventually kisses her back.
Urged by Izzet, Reha reveals that Belkis is Semih’s mother. Izzet immediately dispatches Rifki to her house, but Semih manages again to flee. He visits Yılmaz to invite him to the press conference. The latter, however, rejects the offer, having learned from Turgut that it was Semih, who sent him back to prison. Only the intervention of a fellow comrade later convinces him to change his mind.
Next, Turgut and Semih finally face each other with the truth. The producer attempts to explain to his old friend that they are both victims of a complex game, which they did not initiate. Turgut, however, is strangely unforgiving. He has no intention of hitting Semih because he owes him. At the same time, he wants nothing more to do with him. While Turgut’s arrogance may be the logical complement of his radical ideology, his failure to see “Cehennem Içimizde’s” potential to undermine Izzet and his right-wing extremist agenda is hard to fathom. And, indeed, this is exactly what his communist comrade tells him when he orders him to continue working with Semih. Hopefully, these old friends will find a way back to each other in season two.
With the Saray cinema full of reporters, fans, police, and Izzet’s hitmen, Semih prepares himself to announce to the audience that Yilmaz Güney will not make his appearance. Before the producer can do so, however, he is intercepted by Izzet.
With nothing left to lose, Semih finally tells him what he really thinks:
"You are not the state. You are just an @?#&%! who uses power for his own benefit. You say that you love your country and nation, but you are just fooling them…”
And then, pointing to a picture on the wall, he adds:
“Do you know who this guy is? His name is Mandrake. The great magician. He is a thief and a trickster. He steals people’s hearts. He blows people’s minds.”
Next, Semih dares a final trick. Pretending to possess Faik’s suicide note, he threatens to reveal all of Izzet's dirty secrets. Rifki, who knows that Semih is bluffing, remains silent. At that very moment, the noise of the crowd welcoming Yılmaz Güney to the Saray cinema gives Semih the upper hand. He tells Izzet that his career is ruined, because from now on his movie will tell the world, who he truly is. Semih enjoys his moment of triumph on stage next to Tulin and Yilmaz. As everyone cheers, Semih only sees Costa Amca in the crowd applauding him. After a very long time, he has finally paid his debt to his mentor.
Following the press conference, Rifki reveals to Semih that he was ordered to undermine Izzet by the same people, who originally wanted him in power. Therefore, while Izzet may be out of the competition, the game is far from over. Next, Tülin and Semih exit the Saray Cinema holding hands.
PRELUDE TO SEASON TWO
The final episode opens up a possible scenario for season two. After becoming a successful producer, Semih continues to be targeted by powerful forces from both the right and the left of the political spectrum. The communists, who understand very well the importance of Yeşilçam as a propaganda vehicle, infiltrate Turgut in Semih’s company. As Yeşilçam enters a phase of decline, our favorite producer struggles to achieve a balance between these warring factions. Izzet, Reha, Rifki, and the new villain Erkem continue to challenge him, but he must now face them without his most loyal alter-ego Hakan. What is more, Semih’s previously meager love life becomes very complicated, as he tries to juggle a wife (Tülin,) an ex-spouse (Mine,) and an exciting new hippie lover.
The second season takes place five years after the previous installment. As exciting as 1964 was, 1969 offers an even more complex socio-political backdrop. The Cold War is raging on, and the increasingly violent confrontation between opposite extremist groups leads to the founding of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party with ties to the Counter-Guerrilla. The latter is a far-right secret organization within the Turkish military, which many hold responsible for the numerous acts of terrorism and violence that culminated with the 1971 military coup.
Also in the late 1960s, the youth countercultural movement of the “hippie generation” expands from the US to the rest of the world -- including Turkey. Istanbul, in particular, becomes a favorite departure point on the “Hippie Trail” – a 20th century “Silk Road” on which countless rebel youths from the West travel in search of inner peace and enlightenment. The “Hippie Trail” takes them through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to their ultimate destinations in India, Thailand, or Nepal. Libertarians, pacifists, and strongly opposed to the social and political orthodoxy of the day, Hippies possess values that are anathema to right- and left-wing politicians alike. They create their own communities, listen to psychedelic music, embrace the sexual revolution, worship nature, sympathize with Eastern philosophy and spirituality, and use drugs such as marijuana and LSD to attain altered states of consciousness. Embracing religious and cultural diversity, Hippies deeply revolutionize art, literature, fashion, music, TV, and -- of course -- cinema.
On the basis of the teasers, which BluTV generously provided in the months preceding “Yeşilçam’s” release, most people anticipated a romantic dramedy set within the confined -- and perhaps nostalgically idealized -- Yeşilçam cinematic universe of the 1960s. The first two episodes, however, soon clarified that the series would fail these expectations. Indeed, “Yeşilçam” turned out to be one of the most substantive and successful dizi ever produced in Turkey.
In addition to the fabulous Çağatay Ulusoy, who wowed fans once again with his outstanding performance as Semih Ateş, the main protagonist of the series is Turkish history. To international viewers, “Yeşilçam” provides a veritable crash course on the country’s eventful mid-20th-century evolution from a one-party state into a fragile multi-party political system vulnerable to social unrest and authoritarian takeovers. To the Turkish audience, “Yeşilçam” offers a precious opportunity for collective reflection on a difficult past, where ethnic cleansing, politically motivated persecution, labor repression, ideological conflict, violence, terrorism, and military coups recurred with disturbing frequency.
Furthermore, besides accurately depicting the golden era of Turkish cinema, “Yeşilçam” contains numerous realistic representations of and/or indirect references to sensitive issues -- such as political corruption, labor struggles, censorship, sexism, alcoholism, prostitution, sexual deviancy, homo- and trans-sexuality, adultery, sex out-of-wedlock, and so on. Of course, it helps that “Yeşilçam” is a digital-TV production, where artists usually enjoy greater freedom of expression than in regular television. It is nevertheless refreshing to watch an elaborate period series, which carefully avoids embellishing, romanticizing, or revising the past in order to indoctrinate viewers.
Most admirably, “Yeşilçam” handles each controversial event and/or issue with accuracy, respect, and an open mind. The realization of this brave and fascinating series speaks volumes about the remarkable creativity, dedication, and integrity of all those in the Turkish film industry, who worked so hard to bring it to the screen. For all this and more, you have our most sincere gratitude.
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For more information about Çağatay Ulusoy visit the Cagatay Ulusoy International website and its various social media platforms.