Director and screenwriter Özcan Alper’s ‘Lovers’ Day’ met with the audience on Netflix yesterday. The film, starring Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Settar Tanrıöğen, takes you from your seats and takes you on a long journey from Central Anatolia to Kars and witnesses the reckoning of father and son who have not seen each other for twenty-five years.
Adapted from Kemal Varol’s novel of the same name, father (Heves Ali) and son (Yusuf), who have not met for years, embark on an unplanned journey. The son, who has not seen his father for twenty-five years, is after a hard reckoning with the anger of being without a father for years, while the father, who is struggling with an incurable disease, set out for a belated apology and farewell…
We talked to Özcan Alper, the movie that tells the story of Heves Ali and Yusuf, which took 25 years into three days. Alper talked about the process, the details that are in the novel but not in the movie, and the father and son relationship.
How did the idea of making a movie about Lovers’ Festival come about?
I was impressed by the fact that the book describes an issue spanning years in a simple and heartbreaking way, and that it captures details bearing traces of daily life. Apart from that, of course, the issue of father and son and the issues that were thought to be left in the past but could not be left, forgotten, carried for years like a wound were the things that made me want to adapt the book into a movie.
And most importantly, I think the journey of the father and son, who had not seen each other for twenty-five years, to take a long journey, from one end of the country to the other, to meet years later, was a great trigger for me.
While the story begins in Diyarbakır in the novel, we see Kırşehir in the movie. Why was such a change made, where was the movie shot?
The character of Yusuf in the novel lived in Diyarbakır. The father was coming to her on the pretext of visiting her mother’s grave. I turned the Diyarbakır-Kars journey in the novel into a Kırşehir-Kars journey. Because one of the main characters, father Heves Ali, is a lover… It seemed more correct to me that he was a lover from Central Anatolia and came from this tradition. Not even in love’beige‘ would have been more reasonable. Because in the novel, Kemal made Yusuf from Diyarbakır through Diyarbakır, which he knew much better. On the other hand, it seemed more appropriate for him to live and live in a city resembling a town stuck in Anatolia. One of my previous movies. ‘Future Lasts Long’I shot it between Diyarbakır and Hakkari. I did not want to use the same route and fall into repetition.
Villagers played the cem and semah scenes
The film was shot on the route of Kırşehir, Cappadocia, Elazığ, some districts of Dersim, Bingöl, Erzurum and Kars. Unfortunately, the shots in the village of Zaza were shot in a different place, but in the village of Alevi, since the village in the Kerer region, which is mentioned in the novel, is at a very high logistical level. In the shootings in this village, the supporting actors other than our own actors were real villagers. In fact, in terms of being realistic, it felt more right to have them in the cem and semah scene.
It was one of the reasons why I made the film A tribute to the Alevi culture and way of life.
Some details in the novel are not included in the movie. Political highlights, Yusuf’s lover Aylin… Is there a reason?
To be frank, a novel adaptation can always have its own problems. Adapting popular novels, especially Lovers’ Feast, carries even more risk. Because obviously everyone is making their own movie while reading the novel…
I had no intention of specifically reducing or removing the political emphasis in the novel. The issue of Alevism seemed to be underlined in some parts of the novel as well. In the movie, sometimes you show instead of tell. Frankly, the cem and semah scene, or the fact that your father feels very comfortable in those villages and knows them as friends, has a special respect for the movie.
I can say this myself as someone who has been more comfortable around them during most of the difficult times of my life. In fact, when I read the novel for the first time, the fact that a man in love was accepted as his flame even though he did not have a flame, and the novel’s homage to the flame culture and lifestyle was one of the reasons I made the film.
As for the Armenian story, as someone who made a film on this subject, especially in my third film (Memories of the Wind), the father’s use of a sentence about this issue without having a special place in the story, on the contrary, to explain the issue in that way without opening a side story in the movie, seemed to alleviate the problem.
In addition, the scenes of the mansion in Elazig were very common in the novel, and Yusuf saw a stone with Armenian writing on it. Based on this, his father, Heves Ali, was answering the question of justice from there. When it comes to dilution naturally in the script, you skip most of the scenes. Sometimes literature can be more advantageous in these matters. But if you don’t explain that issue more broadly in the movie, it’s very eclectic, and the scenes that we call the scriptwriter’s view, not the character’s, may emerge.
Aylin’s scenes were removed later
The subject of Aylin and the letters written to her is as follows: This was the first issue I talked to Kemal when I wanted to adapt the book into a movie. Because these past stories and letters intervene in the novel as well. The first thing I did in adapting the script was to reduce these letters a lot. We shot these parts. But in the end, I thought that the Aylin issue in the fiction interrupted the father-son reckoning and journeys. I think it was the story of another novel and another movie. That’s what happened. Kemal wrote a sequel. And it was mostly a novel about the confrontation and reckoning of the unfinished relationship between Aylin and Yusuf. I think it was very nice.
You are shooting a literary adaptation for the first time and you are doing business on the digital platform for the first time. How was your experience? Did you have any reservations?
I made a literary adaptation for the first time, but I didn’t have much hesitation about it. Because in the cinema I made myself, I did not have much anxiety in this direction with the effect of both a side of me that feeds on literature and my experiences in writing scripts together with writers. But in the literary adaptation, the reader can sometimes focus directly on the adaptation of the entire novel to the film. This can create different expectations. In this respect, I think it is necessary to be open to many different criticisms and comments.
Because I know that whoever adapted Kemal Varol’s book, each one would be a different movie. We did not plan to shoot the movie on the digital platform at first. However, due to the prolongation of the pandemic process and the uncertainty of the future of movie theaters, we decided to make it to the digital platform. This, of course, creates a serious opportunity in terms of meeting the budget of the film and creating different possibilities. And knowing that what you are doing will reach a very serious audience in one way or another is an advantage and a new opportunity, I think. The only thing I cared about and hesitated was whether to be involved in the script during the production process. I was both lucky and very free in this regard. Not getting involved in the script destroyed all my worries.
What are your thoughts on the comments that digital platforms are/will replace cinema?
I think we will understand more clearly next autumn and winter whether digital will replace cinema. Because will people get rid of the negative effect of the pandemic and return to movie theaters again? And in the same way, will they remember the pleasure of watching movies together in movie theaters, not alone at home? I hope the audience will return to the movie theaters as we dreamed. Otherwise, a different kind of cinema will be waiting for us. However, it is very clear that the developments in technology and digital platforms will create a serious monopoly on both viewing habits and film production styles.
How is your father-son / son-dad experience? What do you think a father means to his son and his son to a father?
My father is still alive. In fact, like Yusuf’s father in the movie, his name is Ali. His nickname is Bert Ali. Although it is not like in the movie, my relationship with my father, like all father-son relationships in this geography, has always had its ups and downs in different periods of my life.
He used to go to countries such as Iran and Iraq from Hopa because of the work he did in my childhood. He was a truck driver. Sometimes he would not come for a month. When he came, it wouldn’t take a week again, he would hit the road. I remember his arrival getting longer during the long snowy winter days. Although he wanted to read a lot, he could not read. That’s why he cares so much about his children’s education. ‘Future Lasts Long’ I would like to go on a long journey and make a documentary with him, as the character of Ahmet says in my film.
I always saw that generation as a generation that failed to love because they were not loved. Consider a generation that considers it a shame to love their children because of the semi-feudal social order they live in. I guess that’s why my father was someone who always came to us with longing after those long and tiring journeys, but always tried to establish authority.
Despite being a primary school graduate, he was always a social democrat who followed the affairs of the country and the world. During my university years, we naturally argued and fought more. We were offended, we made up. We influenced each other… I think I understood my father better when I became a father myself too late… Now we have a very different father-son relationship.
‘I decided on Kıvanç at the end of the script’
How was the casting process, did you create the names in your mind while writing the script?
While writing the script, I thought more about the character of Yusuf. For Baba Heves Ali, frankly, a few actors came to my mind, but there was always someone very old, like in the novel. At the end of the script, I decided on Kıvanç. I sent the script and we got to know each other and decided to work very quickly. As the pandemic process continued for the father character, we started to look for an actor at a relatively younger age. And in this process, we decided to work with Settar Tanrıöğen.
‘No sequel for now’
Does the road end or does the real road begin after this? Will there be a sequel?
Just like in life, let’s say the road never ends. I guess the road starts just after that… The sequel was written. But there is no sequel yet.