CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006
Vendetta Song is the poignant and revealing story of one woman's unwavering search for truth, connection, and closure as she doggedly attempts to piece together the few clues that will lead her to her Aunt Guzide's killer. In this award-winning documentary (the 2005 Quebec Film Critics Association Best Medium-Length Documentary Award and the CIDA Prize for best Canadian documentary of an international development issue), Montreal filmmaker Eylem Kaftan travels to her eastern Turkish roots to uncover the secrecy and to unravel the mystery surrounding her aunt's death. From the hustle and bustle of a modern Istanbul (fast-food outlets, cell phones, contemporary cars and clothing) to remote, rural, and unmapped villages "thousands of kilometres away" near the Iraqi border, writer-director-narrator Kaftan finds herself "travelling back in time" and coming to terms with a culture that still condones vendetta, honour killings, a traditional Middle Eastern practice in which men murder female relatives who are perceived to have brought "dishonour" on the family.
As she begins her quest, Kaftan learns from her father (Gudize's brother), who lives in Istanbul, that misfortune surrounded Gudize's life from the start. Her mother, Kaftan's grandmother, was only seventeen when she got married, and, soon after, her husband left her for another woman even though she was already pregnant with Guzide. Her family decided that this fatherless baby would bring shame upon them, and so they sent Guzide to a faraway Kurdish village while forbidding Kaftan's grandmother ever to make contact or visit her daughter. Kaftan's father has no record of his sister - no documents, no letters, and no photographs, only a faded, cracked, and sepia-coloured snapshot of two men, Guzide's brothers-in-law. He says that he heard a rumour that one of these men murdered her.
With the picture in hand, Kaftan travels first to Diyarbakir, "spiritual capital of the Kurdish people," to her grandmother's house where Guzide was born, then to Millan where Guzide grew up, and to Karacaören where Guzide was murdered. From villagers' stories, songs, and folklore, an image of her aunt and her tragic life unfolds for Kaftan. She is told that, if she looks in a mirror, she will see Guzide's face. Guzide was tall, beautiful, brave, and never afraid of men. She married at age 15 and had five children; four died at birth; and her only surviving child drowned at the age of five. Then her husband was gunned down in a blood feud with another village. Now a childless widow, her husband's family expected her to marry one of her two brothers-in-law. But Guzide defied tradition and married the brother she loved, not the one chosen for her. Her decision was fatal. Ultimately Kaftan comes face to face with Kadir, one of the brothers she suspects is her aunt's killer. Much to her surprise, he is not the murderer; he is Guzide's husband.
Vendetta Song is not just about solving a mystery. Woven throughout this compelling plot are underlying themes of gender inequality, arranged marriages, family vendettas, and civil conflict between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish army. The strength of the film definitely lies with the portrayal of the people and the special effects that are used to engage the viewer. One moment there is a scene of Kaftan taking pictures of women and children; in the next scene the viewer sees what Kaftan saw through her lens - still close-up black and white and colour shots of both happy and sad faces and eyes. Drama is added to Kaftan's story through the use of very effective blurred, slow motion recreated, yet realistic flashbacks of Guzide's life.
Kaftan allows the various people she meets to tell their stories through man-on-the-street interviews and in one-to-one conversations. Her driver has two wives, and he tells Kaftan that, if either of them fell in love with someone else and went off with them, it would be their "death sentence." He adds, "to tell you frankly, it is men who rule here. Men are in charge." She talks to a group of girls about arranged marriages. One tells her that her father forced her two sisters to marry strangers." I told him he can't force me. I said I'll marry the man I love," she says smoking a cigarette. And then there is Leila, a shy 12-year-old girl who touches Kaftan's heart. She is the eldest of five children and would love to go to school but must stay at home to help her mother with cooking, cleaning, and looking after her brothers. Her family cannot afford the dowry for any of her brothers to marry. Her mother says that eventually Leila will be the dowry for the first brother who wants to marry.
Probably the most heartrending scene in the film is that of an arranged wedding Kaftan attends with all the villagers of Millan. On a day that should be the happiest in her life by Western standards, the bride is constantly in tears because, as custom has it, she leaves her family and friends behind and now belongs to her husband's family. Her visits to home will be restricted. As Kaftan tells her story, the drama moves back and forth to Kaftan's writing her story on her lap top computer. On her last day in Turkey, Kaftan and her camera crew hook up Leila's village with Internet access at the local school "to help girls like Leila open up to the world and perhaps even change their destinies." Dedicated to the memory of Eylem Kaftan's grandmother, Huzezzen Kaftan, Vendetta Song is a must for every high school library. This moving, personal and first-hand look at the people, customs, and mores of Turkey would be a valuable classroom resource that can enhance the social studies curriculum by giving students a better understanding of one of the many ethnic groups that make up Canada 's multicultural mosaic.
Lois Brymer is a former publicist and recent graduate of the University of British Columbia 's Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.