The Small Town (1997) - full transcript

The story of a family living in a small godforsaken town in Turkey seen through the eyes of children and dealing with the growing complexity when one becomes an adult.

Mad Ahmet is coming.


- Good morning.
- Thank you.

I'm Turkish, honest, hardworking.

My principle is

to protect the young,

respect my elders,

to love my homeland

and nation more than myself.

My ideal...

is to rise...

to progress.

O great Ataturk,

I vow to walk your path continuously

towards the goal you set.

I sacrifice my being
to the Turkish nation.

Happy is he who is a Turk.

- Good day friends.
- Thank you.

- Good morning.
- Thank you.

Sit down.

- Pinar.
- Here.

- Elif.
- Here.

- Nazli.
- Here.

- Ismail.
- Absent.

Yes Gokhan. You read
today's passage aloud.

Love and loyalty in the family.

Families are like small societies.

They share joy and sorrow.

Family relations are based on
love, respect and solidarity.

The family is the nucleus of
the nation and human society.

It is the source of social peace.

Peace and order within
families radiates outwards

to affect the entire society.

It is our duty to
uphold this structure.

Children, is it me or is there
a strange smell in the room?

- Yes. There is a smell.
- All right, then...

Everyone, take out
your lunch boxes.

Put them on the desks.

It smells like food, doesn't it?

Asiye, dear. Didn't you
notice this smell?

No, I couldn't smell anything.

This could poison you, my girl.
Your mother should be more careful.

How could she do this?

Please go and throw it away.

I will arrange something else
for you to eat.

Tell your mother
to be more careful next time.

Yes. Today our subject is the rules
which govern social life.

Who wants to read?

The others should listen carefully,
because then I'll ask something.

Well... I want one person
to read the passage.

Yes Nazli.

The rules that regulate social life.

Society needs rules so that people
can live in peace and safety together.

These rules prevent the individual
from acting selfishly within society.

We should obey these rules
in our social relations

or we might face some reactions.

These rules may be
written or unwritten.

Unwritten rules concern
customs and morals.

They are passed down from
generation to generation

and are based on respect and...

Ismail. Take your seat, son.

Pinar. Now you continue reading.

Start reading where
your friend has stopped.

The rest of you

follow from the book.

I may ask any of you.
Go on Pinar.

The importance of solidarity
in social life.

Solidarity means loyalty to
one another regarding

individual feelings and thoughts.

Because people cannot
live in isolation.

People always need one another.

We should help the poor

as best we can

either directly or through charities.

And help does not just mean
giving money.

People need sympathy
in times of suffering.

They need to share their
sorrows and happiness.

When people share the same feelings,
society is strengthened.

That is the only way to
overcome difficulties.

What we call national unity
is loyalty to one another.

Should we eat plums
growing in the cemetery?

Don't eat them if you don't want to.

You are stepping on the grave.

What is written here?

It says what it says.
Why do you care anyway?

You can read it better
when you run some bricks on it.

Won't its shell break?

Even if a car goes over it,
it won't break.

They only die if you
leave them upside down.


They can't turn themselves over again.

- Shall I ride on it, too?
- All right, but be careful.

Come on, move.

It is slippery.

It really is strong.

- Won't it poke its head out?
- What?

Won't it poke its legs out?

- If it forgets about you, it might.
- How can it forget about me?

You must stand still
for a long time.

A thorn pricked me.

Couldn't you find a better place
than the grave to place it on?

Stop fidgeting.
It won't come out then.

Don't move.

- What was that?
- A rifle.

Father, they are coming.

Where have you been?
You have lost track of time again.

We met a hunter by the cemetery.
He knows Father.

That must be Huseyin.
He hunts blackbirds there.

What he wants with those tiny birds
I will never understand.

Didn't I tell you to come up directly?
It is nearly dark.

Don't trample the maize, child.

Come round the other way.
You'll get shot one of these days.

But we cross the field
without trampling the maize.

Don't exaggerate.
Nothing will happen.

You never know son.

Maize fields are dangerous.

A few years ago, in Torhasan a man
was lying in wait for wild boar

when he heard a rustling sound
he pulled the trigger.

And he shot Kashirahmet's son Ali.

Poor child was in a lot of pain
until he died.

You should avoid the fields.
He was the same age as Ali.

You should stick to the road.

Has the tailor finished
mending my trousers?

- Yes.
- Good.

- It's 50 lira.
- What?

- He says he wants 50 lira.
- How much?

50 lira?

- Did you have the hems put up?
- Yeah.

He is really asking for 50 lira.

Let him give me 50 lira,
and he can keep the trousers.

All he did was turn up the legs
and let out the waist.

You can't get anything
altered any more.

Give the child 50 lira,
and she will get it for you.

Don't be ridiculous.

So will the trousers stay there?

I've got two strands of hair on
my head. I went to the barber.

He just clicked twice with
the scissors. And how much?

50 lira. It's ridiculous.

As if he is selling a field to me.

When I paid 20 lira for our house,
everyone said it was expensive.

That was in nineteen...

When I was in America,
a dollar was less than one lira.

Ali. Come here.

- What is it?
- Come here, I say.

A skinny barber used to
come to the village.

He came once a week
in rain or shine.

He'd cut your hair
for a couple of tomatoes.

He always thanked people.

I never heard him complain once.

Now the guy sits in his shop
and you have to go to him.

Two clicks and he wants 50 lira.

Who can afford it?

He just turned up hems
and took in the waist a little.

How time has flown.
I can hardly believe it.

That's life, isn't it?

I was young and strong then.

I was only 15. But the war was on,
so who cared about age?

I, who had never been beyond the hills
around the village until then

found myself in Istanbul.

They put us on a train at Sirkeci
Station and sent us to Nusaybin.

It must be Haydarpasha Station.

I remember it as if it were yesterday.

The entrance to the train station
was very crowded.

Many children like myself,
who had never left their villages

were running around.

I made friends with a Kurdish boy
who was always hanging around me.

I made friends with him.
What was his name?

He was a bit simple
but he had a good heart.

- May God bless him if he's alive.
- Where is Nusaybin?

- What?
- In Iraq.

- What happened then?
- We set out for Mosul.

There was crippling poverty and
hunger in those parts.

We asked for food from the villagers.
But they swore there was nothing.

All they said was "maho".

"Maho" means nothing.

We asked at other houses
but it was again "maho".

The cherries are over early this year.

Not only the cherries, you know.
Blackberries, too.

I was passing under the
cherry tree yesterday

and a sound came from above.
- Was it a squirrel?

No. When I looked up

I saw a huge snake.

- Snake? What kind of snake?
- A huge grey snake.

What it was doing up in the tree
I can't imagine.

Everything is strange these days.
Even the walnuts don't ripen on time.

- The cranes don't come any longer.
- Why?

Don't know. The pesticides probably.

What happened then, Father?

That damned cough.
I can't get rid of it.

Where was I?

You had got to Mesopotamia,
around Baghdad and Basra.

Yeah. We crossed that long,
desert-like plain

and reached Kutulenmare,
near Baghdad.

We suddenly encountered
the British.

We defeated them even though
we were hungry and thirsty.

And do you know what
happened next?

The English commander
committed suicide.

The English commander couldn't bear
the defeat and committed suicide.

But when their reinforcements
arrived, they beat us.

We could have won
if we hadn't been starved.

Then we were taken prisoner.

They put us on a ship to India.

From Bombay we were taken
by train to Semerpur.

We worked there as building laborers.

I was so weak that

I couldn't even carry
two bricks on my back.

Even that was too much.

The English guard kept shouting:
"Come on Joe".

Actually, if we could've fed
ourselves properly

we would've wiped out the English.
But we had no strength.

Most of us died of
starvation or disease.

Those damned jackals
are down by the stream again.

They're cunning creatures.

They hide during the day
and then appear at night.

They must be hungry to
come down to the stream.

Whether it was luck or fate
which brought me back, I don't know.

I came back safely

but I had nothing.

What's there to do?

Perhaps it would have been better
if you hadn't come back.

It's all in vain.

Saffet. I thought you were asleep.

What a way to talk, Saffet?
How can you think that way?

Saffet my boy, mind your words.

Homesickness is a suffering
unlike any other.

Even if you starve
it's still your homeland.

Look at Gobak Ismail.
He worked in Germany for years but...

Aunt. To be buried in
your own soil when you die.

Why should it matter, anyway?

No, you are young

and far from death.
That's why you can talk like that.

When death approaches,
you prepare yourself spiritually.

Otherwise it is unbearable.
You must have faith.

It is so difficult
to be far from home.

And everywhere you look are strangers.

That's true. I don't even
feel at home in the town.

- Who knows how I'd feel?
- So why go? Stay where you are.

Wherever you go, it is the same sky,
the same trees in a sense.

But still we dream about our own sky,
our own trees for some reason.

That dry tree over there is dead,

but it still sways in
the wind with the others.

I believe that when we die
we remain a part of life

one way or another,
just like that dry tree.

In India my mother used to appear
and smile at me.

I used to freeze with awe.

I later found out
she died exactly at that time.

- The thing called telepathy is...
- Perhaps some people feel like that

but I don't.
If your spirit is elsewhere

it is better to leave
everything behind.

- What's better about that?
- I don't know.

I don't want to stay here and rot.

While I was in the army
I thought about that all the time.

I think these are all in vain.

Vain? Vain in what way?
What else is there to do?

That's the law of nature.
Only the strong survive.

Evolution theory.

We shouldn't waste our lives.
We should work.

Work? What work? Grandfather has
worked for years and what did he get?

Yes. That's right.
But what else can we do but work?

And what else do we do anyway?
Look at my hands.

We are so inadequate,
and there is so much work to do.

- It is not likely to finish.
- We should add new things

to what has been done
throughout human history.

where civilization was born.

You were in some really
important places, father.

Is it raining?

I don't think so.

I felt a drop on my hand.

Stone carving also began
in Mesopotamia.

Yes. That's right.

The cradle of civilization.

"La berceau de la
civilisation" in French.

Then, Babylon for instance.

- Have you seen Babylon?
- I have heard about such a place,

but I haven't seen it.
- Babylon is very important.

That is where Alexander
the Great died.

He conquered the world
from end to end in his youth.

Dad, tell us how they cross the river?

- Yes, tell us about the elephants.
- All right. Listen then.

But don't sleep.

Alexander comes to the river Hidaspes.

On the other side of the river
is King Porus, with his army.

Alexander splits his army into three

and marches down
the river with one part.

Of course there were plenty of battles.

The first one was at Granicus
in 334 BC.

Then at Pineros, which is called
Deliçay now,

somewhere around Iskenderun...

and then the third
on Gaugamela plain.

Finally there was the one
against Porus.

Last summer I met a man
from Iskenderun,

and asked him about Deliçay.

He was amazed
I had heard of Delicay.

But didn't he win all the battles
at the expense of his army?

No one remembers their names.

Only Alexander.

You are wrong.

Of course he needed his army,
but 2,300 years ago

no ordinary man could have done
it under those circumstances.

Do you think it is easy to lead an
army all that way for 13 years?

Sultan Selim couldn't
even reach Caldiran

because his army rebelled against him.

But why did he do it? So that his name
would go down in history.

- He invaded peaceful countries.
- That's enough about Alexander.

What's so special
about this Alexander?

People who don't know the past
can't see the future.

We have many great commanders
in our history, too.

- Fatih the Conqueror for instance.
- Of course there are others.

Like Urukagina,
that great Mesopotamian king.


- What kind of name is that?
- Urukagina. The king of Lagash.

He appeared when the priesthood
was exploiting the people.

And about invasions.

Alexander took civilization
to the places he conquered.

He built new cities, and

brought cultures together.

The Persians had been
making the Greeks suffer,

constantly attacking them.

He wanted to conquer Egypt so that...


Get down, Mother.

Get down.

He reached the Gedrosia Desert
in southern Pakistan.

It was a terrible place
almost impossible to cross.

Only 12,000 men survived
out of 60,000.

Some of them died of thirst

and some of starvation.

They were so hungry,
they ate their horses.

Exhausted they struggle
across that endless yellow desert.

Then they saw flocks of crows
flying through the empty sky.

They thought that the crows were
flying to a water source.

After they struggled for some time,
they saw something like water.

First they thought it was a mirage.

And then they saw a pool of water

glistening in the middle of
the desert.

One soldier walked
towards the water, and...

Son! Forget about
other people's troubles,

and let's worry about us.

I'm still grieving for
my poor son's death.

I feel the same.

But there is nothing
we can do about it.

He was always reckless
and he never liked working.

He insisted on going away
and we couldn't stop him.

- And he loved you a lot, Saffet.
- What kind of love was it?

It was my mother who brought me up.
What did he do?

He wasn't here
when we were in trouble.

He visited us once or twice a year.

And you take after him.
You want to go, too.

You turned out to be a rebellious lad.

Been years since you returned
from military service.

You still haven't got a proper job.

I can't understand why you resigned
from the registry office?

It would be more accurate
to say I changed jobs.

I was condemned to work all my life.
It was a bit too long for my taste.

I know the registrar.
He's a fine man.

The registrar? Yes, he is
really an easy-going man.

If you can't get along with him,
you can't with anyone else.

He told me that he kept me there
for the sake of my grandfather,

otherwise I would have flown away.

I told him he overestimated me
if he really thought I could fly.

And what did he say?

He said, "Take the man away,
he gets on my nerves".

Not a single place is left in town
where we didn't find a job for you.

Either you were fired
or you quit them all.

You went into the army but it didn't
make a man of you. Now tell me.

What else can we do?

What do you want?

I want to tell you this.
Yes. Maybe I am a failure.

You are fed up with me
being discontented.

I think I've got no talent
for anything.

And I've got nothing to
give other than my blood.

My youth is being wasted
like a useless cigarette end.

I've got no home, no friends, no job.

I wasted my best years
stuck in this town.

My manhood and my heart
are melting away before my eyes.

Let me add this, too.

I thought of nothing but leaving this
town before I did military service.

On that particular morning, however,

I felt there were deeper ties
binding me to this town,

which I never noticed until then.

There was the scent of pines
in the air.

That day I felt I was seeing
the pines and the oaks

for the first time in my life.

So early in the morning,
there are usually only stray dogs

out in the streets,
wandering aimlessly.

I think I love these quiet mornings,
the dogs, and the smell of the soil.

But I don't understand the people
who live in this town

and their petty concerns.

I find them alien and offensive.

Now tell me. What's wrong with
wanting to go to some place

where something serious
and useful is going on?

Mother, remember

when I was at high school in Biga and
we were living in that damp basement?

One night he suddenly came.
We were very poor, then.

We were eating the provisions
from the village.

We used to secretly
collect the pieces of soap

our neighbor threw out
into the garden.

That night we were eating porridge
when there was a knock at the door.

- It was him.
- Is there any corn left, Grandma?


Well dressed as usual,

he came inside and saw the porridge
on the crooked table.

- Turning up his nose he said...
- Son, stop harping on about it.

"What's that? Are you
eating wheat porridge?"

Emin! Stop it!


He was an interesting man.

He lived and died
without ever getting tired,

carrying any burden of conscience,
contributing in any way.

You have contributed,
and look what happened?

You had a water channel built,

and now the villagers are
talking behind your back.

I don't care what the villagers say.

Whenever I go
past that channel I feel very proud.

Didn't your field happen to be
at the end of the channel?

Does it matter?

Didn't it make
the entire valley get greener?

Nothing changed.
Now there is a channel but no water.

Even so, it doesn't matter.

Even this small sapling has
wonders of nature hidden in it.

Look at these branches.
A new branch every year.

This one is shorter because
there was less rain that year.

So what?

Nature holds the answer
to all our questions.

You have to feel yourself
as part of the whole.

Your father abandoned this place.

You talk like that about my father
but let's get some things straight.

Not everyone is lucky enough
to go to college.

Luck? You call this luck?

What else could have my
my father done?

You feel strong.

But the harsh reality is that you
have to live in the godforsaken town

which is no different than a prison.
There is nothing but the trees.

What is there to do but leave?
Maybe he was right.

Listen to this.

- When your father left...
- He was your brother.

You played together
in these meadows.

You have laughed together
in the same streets.

But I haven't once heard
you say anything good about him.

People should have a little
compassion or tenderness.

How can you be so distant
and insensitive?

But Saffet, what about...

What I'm really wondering is
why I'm the only one

suffering for my father's faults?
Aren't you his relatives, too?

Why am I the only one suffering?

- Saffet, son...
- How can you shrug off

responsibility like water off a
duck's back? Just because I'm around?

Come on Saffet, certainly not.

All right. Maybe I'm ignorant.
I don't know about Alexander

But what use is knowledge
if you don't share it with anyone?

It's not enough to read books.

Did you learn all that
for yourself alone?

Now this is absurd.

You sound like the noise made by
the rolling of an empty tin can.

It's easy to talk
and hard to do anything.

I started with nothing.

I was determined to study
and I never gave up.

I went to school
on donkey-back all winter.

I know what I went through.

I worked in the fields all summer.
Do you think it was easy?

Do you?

I worked hard on my own
and made it into university.

My back saw its first coat
at the university.

I learned English all by myself,
and went to America.

And how did I do all this?
While the others discussed

football matches all night
in the dormitory, I studied.

What was your father doing then?
Dressed in fancy clothes,

he was running around after
deputies and rich merchants.

Wasn't he?

Yes, maybe I live a secluded life,

and my best friends are my books.

I don't believe in people any more.

Only in nature.

Your father thought
I had wasted my life.

He used to tell people
I didn't know how to live.

- Isn't there any corn left, Gran?
- No.

Dad. Shall we go and pick some corn?

- Why do you stare at me like that?
- Nothing.

Stop crying, old woman.

Now why did you bring up
the subject again?

You're being very hard on each other.

Do you think you are perfect?

Saffet, you've got the same troubles
as your father.

You still haven't got a proper job.

Now your military service
is over, make up your mind.

Get married and have kids.

As for you, son...

You are the only person in our village
who has ever gone to university.

You went abroad,
learnt foreign languages,

but in the end you came back
and settled here.

Didn't you study to get away
from these fields?

I don't understand
what all that education was for.

One of us is under the earth, and

that's where we are all destined for
sooner or later.

I have an absolute faith in God,
but we come and we go.

Where are my mother, father and
uncles? They have all gone.

It doesn't matter when people
have lived their lives, Father.

But why does God take away
an innocent child's life?

What sin could a two-year-old child
have committed?

Take Kezban's child, for instance.
The poor kid was only two.

No one can know.

No one but God.

We shouldn't know everything.

Just know what you need to live,
that's enough.

What's the point in knowing more?

God gave us two ears
instead of four.

Because you can hear
with two ears, too.

Yes woman, we've lost our son
but it is the will of God.

In this life, there are
good days and bad days.

When I came back from India,
I was totally exhausted.

On the way back, while I was shivering
on the ship's deck, I was thinking.

If I ever reached my country,
I would never be unhappy again

as long as I found a warm place to
sleep and something warm to eat.

We got home,
but the place was in ruins.

The war had affected these places too.

My fiancée had given me up
and married someone else.

She even had a child.

That's right.

Now I'm a farmer.

So what? It's all right.

But I don't want to die, you know.

I hope God lets me live
another 20 years at least.

You have to live and eat healthy
like the Americans.

To cut a long story short,
I've had good times and bad times.

You will outlive us all, Father.

You can see the state I am in.

My mouth shakes
and my left eye twitches.

But the worst of all is
trying to sleep.

Just as I start to fall asleep,

suddenly I get a pain
in my right side.

Then the pain moves
up to my head.

And I have terrible headaches.

Age brings its aches and pains.

But I still want to carry on living.

At least 20 more years.

Do you hear music?

Father is right.

When my mother died I thought
I couldn't bear to live without her.

But now I can hardly
remember her face.

But when I was pregnant
I felt something I never had before.

I don't exactly know.
Maybe a wish for goodness?

As if I had realized
what life was about.

Soon no one will even
visit our graves.

Change your pillow, Father.

Use a thick wooden rolling pin
like the Japanese do.

Right under your neck.

Most headaches are caused by the
nerves at the back of the neck.

Last year when the fire broke out
I ran home.

I was so relieved to see
it wasn't at our house.

Ali and Asiye were watching the fire

with looks of horror, panic
and pleading on their faces.

It scared me to see them like that.

I said to myself, God, these kids will
see so much throughout their lives.

All the people were
running around shouting.

And that imploring look
on the children's faces.

I couldn't get it out of my mind.

Mother! In which direction is India?

Don't know. This way I think.

- You mean, towards Yenice?
- I guess so.

- That's east, isn't it?
- Then it is over the mountains.

Yeah. I think so.

If she had got some property
while her husband was alive,

she wouldn't be penniless now.

She asked if I had any laundry
to be done.

- Who?
- Your wife.

I said I didn't. There are only those
that I am wearing, I said.

She didn't offer to wash those.

So I didn't take them off.
I dumped them in a bag.

Maybe I should have a few deeds
made out in my name

while your father is still alive.

Asiye, are you asleep my lamb?

I was going to ask you to massage
my shoulders a bit.

You carry on sleeping.

My head is aching again.
It is keeping me awake.

Nuri! Come and massage it for me.

- What?
- Massage my shoulders a bit.

This damned pain.
Why is it tormenting me like this?

My neck feels like a block of wood.

I'd like to chop it off.

- Nuri!
- Wait. Let me tie this.

- Do you want me to press it?
- Look.

This pain is like a weather forecast.

Let me sit down and
rest for a moment.

- Are the children in bed?
- They are.

They didn't finish eating the melon.

I didn't take it in.
They can eat it when they wake up.

Good idea.

God preserve us.
Thanks God.

For my Mother and Father...