The Personal is Political: Kurdish Lover March 22, 2012

Terje Toomistu thoughts about Clarisse Hahn's film

Employing an exceedingly personal approach, this film zooms in on the cultural roots of the partner of the French author of the film, Clarisse Hahn. The film was shot in a village in Turkey that once upon a time was the home of the Kurdish lover. However, it is not really Turkey, it is Kurdistan – “a country that does not exist”, as the film’s author stated in the opening sequence.

Through the day to day activities of the family of Oktay, Clarisse’s partner, and the villagers, frame after frame the everyday culture and mentality unfolds for better and for worse, unadorned, as it is. Hahn shows us a realistic picture of bloody sheep sacrifices and is not uncomfortable to shoot the petty quarrels between the women, the filth and the slander, the rigidness of social structures assuming epic proportions from time to time, the affection that is restricting freedom, the inherent lust for money. The filmmaker assumes the position of a bystander. The film running for an hour and a half approximately is supposedly a cut from 200 hours of raw footage, during which she as the beloved of a Kurdish man just observed the display of events, so the people observed weren’t often aware whether the camera was running or not.

The themes featuring in the film introduced Kurdish everyday culture as well as shedding light on the complexities of inter-cultural relationships, where the differing value models repeatedly collide and the male-female hierarchy of power is in constant disintegrating turmoil. For example, one night while walking back from the village bar, Oktay’s brother starts to reproach him for being hen-pecked, allegedly doing everything she asks him to do. “Come on, be a man!” Right… And just few hours back this Europe-residing brother had shrugged in front of the camera confessing his lack of insight into why he is eager to marry a local girl. “Everyone is doing it”. Or perhaps just the local girl is way easier to be subjugated into the applicable hierarchies of power?

Hahn takes us along with her, forcing us to swallow the bitterness found and created in many of these perhaps way too authentic situations. Even to the extent that during the film I caught myself wondering on several occasions whether the couple is still an item or did they part ways when the film project ended. But no, they are still on and going strong as we all were able to witness during the Skype session following the screening.

Thus, in Kurdish lover the author’s personal life transcends the boundaries and transforms into something more universal that is not just limited to the love between Clarissa and Oktay, but addresses the male-female relationships on both local and intercultural levels, domestic hierarchies of power, complexities of inter-cultural communication, and among other issues, the political conflict in Turkey. In Kurdish lover “the personal is political”.