Turkish screenwriter and director Emin Alper, whose 2015 dystopian drama ‘Frenzy’ caused a stir in Venice and who most recently helmed the hit TV series ‘Aleph’ about two detectives on the trail of a dervish-turned-killer in series in Istanbul, is in Cannes for the first time with the incendiary drama “Burning Days” screened at Un Certain Regard.
It’s about a young, serious prosecutor named Emre who gets drawn into corrupt populist politics as he investigates a murder and forms a bond with the owner of the local newspaper.
Alper spoke to Variety on how “Burning Days” reflects the rise of authoritarian populism and growing homophobia, and not just in his country. Extracts
It’s pretty explosive stuff. What drew you to the subject?
Over the past few years, I’ve been surprised to see similar things happening around the world. We have known Trump, for example. It was really shocking to me. So I decided to write a story about our plight.
So the original point was: I want to show how these types of neo-populist or neo-fascist people can exploit people’s basic needs and keep their corrupt system in place.
It was my starting point. My main inspiration was Ibsen’s famous play “An Enemy of the People”. So I started thinking about it, and then the story evolved from there.
Tonally, you seem to have leaned more towards the genre.
Atmospherically, this film is similar to my second film “Frenzy”. In this film, I wanted to create a rather unrealistic and very oppressive atmosphere. Still, the genre elements are much more evident in this film. In terms of tone, I can say that from the start, I wanted to create a kind of hellish atmosphere for the young prosecutor. A very strange and insecure atmosphere in which he never feels comfortable. In fact, initially, the gender element was not very important in my mind. It evolved as I wrote the story. I wanted there to be some sort of crime element. These public figures, these populists in many countries are often involved in crimes. But it was really surprising to me to see that ordinary people generally neglect [to be concerned about] their criminal side.
Did the production of the TV series “Alpeh” orient you more towards genre cinema?
The initial point was that I wanted there to be a crime that the mayor and the son are involved in. I’ve always liked genre films, and I’ve always liked to use or borrow certain genre elements. With this film, it is the first time that it has become so clear. It may be related to having more confidence in myself, since it’s my fourth film and it may be because I shot a television series. But I had written the screenplay before doing the TV show.
There is a homosexual relationship and a denunciation of homophobia in this film. It is sensitive in Turkey.
Yes. In the first project, this problem was missing. But over the past three or four years, homophobia has become a kind of state policy in Turkey. In addition to the homophobia of ordinary people, the state has developed a homophobic policy, especially against new digital platforms. They really put pressure on Netflix about a show [titled “If Only”] who haD an LGBT character. And that really made a lot of us angry. Because five years ago it was not a problem. LGBT characters were relatively free. But to create a conservative program with the aim of strengthening the government [electoral] base, they suddenly came up with this problem.
But, again, what interested me is that it’s not just a local problem. It’s universal. Look at what is happening in Hungary, in Russia. This is one of the things of our neo-populist era. So I decided to incorporate homophobia into the story and it became a really good fit.
Will ‘Burning Days’ play in Turkish cinemas?
It will certainly be screened in Turkey. We have no problem there. The problem starts if the streaming platforms want to play it. They might hesitate [about buying the film]. But our theatrical screening conditions are relatively free. It is really rare that a film is banned in Turkey.