11'e 10 Kala

Modernity as a Collector's Item in Pelin Esmer's Film 10 to 11

(Feride Çiçekoğlu, 2010)

How can a single film say so much about the history of modernity in Turkey? Possibly because the director had no intention to do so and therefore is not didactic at all. Pelin Esmer's film focuses on collecting; a critical dimension of modernity, but it does so by the seemingly simple story of two men from different generations who happen to live in the same apartment building in contemporary İstanbul. That the director is a woman but both the protagonist and the antagonist of the film are men fits the aura of the film since women are represented in the film mainly by their active absence. Although they continue to inspire, shake and shape their husbands, they are not visible to the audience. The narrative of the film, about two men and their absent wives, may also be read as the narrative of consecutive models of cultural modernity – "modernization-from-above" and "modernization-as-self-generating-process" – neither conceptualized nor judged in the film. This essay will attempt to read the narrative of the film at a more abstract level, in terms of a chronicle of modernity since the foundation of the Turkish republic in 1923.

Pelin Esmer, a young woman director from Istanbul with a degree in sociology from Boğaziçi University, prefers not to confine herself to documentary or feature as a filmmaker. Her first film Koleksiyoncu (The Collector, 2002) was about her uncle, Mithat Esmer. The film portrayed the uncle in his authentic environment, among piles of newspapers, tools, souvenirs and all kinds of objects he had accumulated in the course of a long and obsessive life. Her second film Oyun (The Play, 2005) told the story of a group of women staging a play they composed collectively in a provincial Anatolian town. Having read about the incentive in newspaper, Pelin Esmer grabbed her camera and traveled to the small town. She ended up living there and documenting the process. Both films got a number of national and international awards with extensive media coverage and paved the way for the third film, 11'e 10 kala (10 to 11, 2009)(1). Mithat Esmer, the uncle, appears once again in this film, collecting samples from the soundscape of the city in addition to the items in his apartment.

10 to 11 is a film about the city and its transformation in a way, though it focuses on two men, one in his eighties and the other in his thirties. The elderly, Mithat Esmer combines reality and fiction in his persona, by appearing as himself, the collector, yet acting as the owner of one of the apartments at the top floor of a fictional building named Emniyet Apartmanı (The Safety Apartments). The younger is the janitor who lives in the basement. Their stories intersect after an earthquake. The past story of Mithat Esmer is given in the film both through the sound recordings he has kept and through the items he has collected. Born in 1926, his life is almost a chronicle of the republic itself and he stands as a living tribute to the project of cultural modernity implemented in 1923. The fictional character of the janitor named Ali, acted by Nejat İşler, is an immigrant from Anatolia. Dramatically speaking, he is the antagonist, revealed through his relation with Mithat Esmer as well as his phone conversations with his wife, and gradually through his interaction with the city.


This essay will first present the plot of the film and will proceed to analyze the narrative with concepts of cultural studies, focusing on the meaning and importance of collecting and collectors in the history of modernity in Turkey. After highlighting the positivistic obsession with time as a dominant feature of the imposed model of modernity, the final section will refer to the representation of the clash between the metropolis and the provincial in the history of films featuring Istanbul and will wrap up the discussion with comments on how 10 to 11 differs from previous examples.

The Plot of the Film as a Portrait of Istanbul

The film starts with an iconographic image of Mithat Esmer, an elderly gentleman with his shopping bags walking slowly on the Galata Bridge, the bridge over Golden Horn. With the sea at background and the sounds of Istanbul street life surrounding him, he seems both at home and alienated. He is an enigmatic character and he appears to be more than what we see, though we cannot pinpoint during this first shot exactly what is unusual about him. After checking in his usual second hand bookseller whether his long awaited 11th volume of the Istanbul Encyclopedia has arrived or not, we see him on his way home. He enters his apartment, and once he starts wandering among piles of newspapers, books, bottles and all kinds of accumulated items, with the soundscape of Istanbul still at background, we find him almost uncanny. The sounds of Istanbul are still at a very high level until he hears the doorbell, when he switches off the sound recorder – invisible to the audience until that moment – and once the apartment is suddenly very quiet; it turns into a museum, or rather a mausoleum of itself. This is a strong moment of the film and the director catches our attention and gets us ready for an unusual story while Mithat Esmer is walking to the door. He opens the door, and we meet Ali, the janitor. Ali is a quiet, submissive person, someone who carries messages to and from the manager. Mithat Esmer complains that there is a leak at the roof, a threat to his collection. This issue continues throughout the film and ignites the conflict with the manager who insists that instead of partial repair, the building should be torn down since it is not safe. A minor earthquake, with no visible damage, unites all the other inhabitants in a common front, headed by the manager. They want their building to be replaced by a safer and more modern one, which will increase the value of each and every apartment. As an engineer, Mithat Esmer has made calculations, has consulted experts and he thinks that the building is safe enough; he finds their plea just another manifestation of the drive for luxury and money. The manager visits him, announcing that his collection is a threat to their safety due to overweight of the piles of paper, especially in case of an earthquake. Due to manager's complaint, Mithat Esmer gets a notice from the municipality that he should remove his collection and move out.


This marks the point when the life of Ali becomes intertwined with that of Mithat Esmer. Although Ali is also quite uneasy about the decision of the management, this we learn only through his phone conversations with his wife, who is away in their native village, since their daughter suffers from asthma. The doctor has warned that the humidity of the basement, where the janitor's quarters are, is bad for her health and the wife has moved back with the daughter. She urges Ali to look for another job but Ali does not know how, since he is not familiar with the city and he is frightened to go out. When Mithat Esmer is confronted with the necessity to pack his collection, he asks Ali to go out for all the chores necessary for the preservation and continuation of his collection. Each day, two copies of each newspaper have to be picked up, one for the collection, the other to read, a sound recorder or a clock has to be fixed, photocopies have to be made at the library, and so on. When asked to go out for these chores, Ali is reluctant at first, saying that he cannot leave the building for long periods, in case he is called by the manager or one of the other inhabitants. Mithat Esmer asks him to read his legal rights; that he does not have to attend to the calls except during the regular times of service. Thus liberated from his self-imposed, pre-modern understanding of obligation, and in return for a modest pay, Ali ventures out into the city, on behalf of Mithat Esmer.

Critical among the chores Ali has to do for Mithat Esmer is to continue the regular check for the 11th volume of the unfinished encyclopedia about Istanbul by Reşat Ekrem Koçu. This is the only missing volume of Mithat Esmer's collection, and the most valuable one, since it is difficult to find. When Ali finally locates it in the second-hand book seller, towards the end of the film, Mithat Esmer will say it is unfairly expensive: A comment which becomes a hinge for the ending. While Ali gradually gets acquainted with the city, he also starts discovering the details of the daily life led by Mithat Esmer. The tiny restaurant kept by a woman named Feride who lovingly gathers the labels of bread for his collection, the library where he makes photocopies, the clock mender who sends his greetings, and the other daily stops gradually become part of Ali's life also. Parallel to Ali getting acquainted with the city, we get acquainted more with Mithat Esmer while he is packing his collection. He listens to the sound recordings of his conversations with Feride where he tells the story of how he traveled by a freighter to the United Sates in 1945, to study electronic engineering at Stanford University with a scholarship from a state company in Turkey. His devotion to engineering is a milestone in his life.

This explains Mithat Esmer's obsession with technology and his conviction that modernity is universal, irresistible and good. From a visit he pays to a cemetery, we learn that his dream was a tombstone on which it would be inscribed that he has discovered the transistor, a dream cut short by his untimely return due to death of his father. To pay back for his scholarship, he had to work first in a cotton mill in Anatolia. Then he worked for the police department, to found the police station at radio, since there was no other option to accommodate his training as an electronic engineer. So we start getting clues of an unrealized dream, a life cut short, to be continued only by collecting, though collecting itself has cut his life short in another way, as in the case of a shattered marriage, a wife posing him the choice "either me, or your collection" and leaving with the answer she gets.


As time proceeds, a nephew comes to help Mithat Esmer pack. He asks subtle questions as to whether the uncle would consider exhibiting or selling items from the collection, to support a second hand dealer he plans to start with a friend but he gets the answer that the collection is not for sale. The nephew opens a bottle of liquor, Russian vodka, which turns out to be an item from the collection. Mithat Esmer bitterly brings another bottle, open for use and says now he has to find the same bottle unopened to replace it in the collection, still another chore for Ali. Ali will buy an extra bottle for himself and this will lead to one of the key scenes of the film, when Mithat Esmer visits Ali's basement apartment for the first time. They drink together, adding the sour cherry sherbet sent to Ali from village. A bit sweet but it does not taste bad, they will agree: Two men from different backgrounds, with different tastes and aspirations, drinking to health with no condescendence, no bitterness – a shared moment of joy.

While he gradually moves the boxes of the packed collection one by one to the storage place in the basement, Ali has started to discover the exchange value of the old stuff in them due to his visits to the second hand sellers where old books and tools are sold for amounts beyond his grasp. Now that he is out into the city, Ali has more confidence. He starts by selling an old watch from one of the boxes. He buys a gift for his daughter with the money. His phone conversations with his wife develop in a more cheerful way. He ignores the call of the manager from the diaphone while he is on the phone, relaxing with his feet extended out. Not only has his body language started to transform, but his prospects for a future has also extended. He considers applying for a job at the library. He learns that his age is just at the limit. He is 34. If he were 35, he would no longer be able to apply for public sector. Public sector promises safety for Ali, it has social security. Ali decides to take initiative. He starts looking for an apartment. Their building is almost deserted anyway, everyone has moved out except Mithat Esmer and himself, now that the decision for demolition is confirmed.

Why not try his chance with some of the items which will be forgotten and will become obsolete in the damp storage place of the deserted "Safety apartments"? This will be Ali's way of finding safety in a city which otherwise promises no way out to him or to his family. Ali sells the first 10 volumes of the encyclopedia at the shop where he has spotted the long searched 11th volume, which he quickly puts it in his shopping bag without paying for it while the shop owner is out for a moment. In the end, Ali has got the job at the library and has rented an apartment in one of the peripheral neighborhoods. He moves out and he leaves the 11th volume in his empty apartment – where Mithat Esmer will find it, next to the vodka bottle which stands there in the memory of their shared moment of joy. Why not try his chance with some of the items which will be forgotten and will become obsolete in the damp storage place of the deserted "Safety apartments"? This will be Ali's way of finding safety in a city which otherwise promises no way out to him or to his family. Ali sells the first 10 volumes of the encyclopedia at the shop where he has spotted the long searched 11th volume, which he quickly puts it in his shopping bag without paying for it while the shop owner is out for a moment. In the end, Ali has got the job at the library and has rented an apartment in one of the peripheral neighborhoods. He moves out and he leaves the 11th volume in his empty apartment – where Mithat Esmer will find it, next to the vodka bottle which stands there in the memory of their shared moment of joy.

"Bashful Collectors" of Modernization-from-above

The foundation of the Turkish republic and the following social reforms as a cultural westernization project, were paralleled by a nation-building building process, creating an anachronistic collective memory and history(2). Whether the Kemalist project of modernity is seen as a continuation of Ottoman modernization or a radical transformation of it, there is no dispute that the strategies of the new republic put the responsibility of building museums in the initiative of the state, as it was in the case of the Ottoman period.(3) This was in accordance with the general aura of the modernity project in Turkey, seen as a social engineering process "where modernity was a conscious imposition by modernizers whose arsenal was the exercise of state-power." (Keyder 1997: 37) As Keyder puts in a nutshell:

The defining sector of this reconstitution was an unsullied ethnic heritage endowed with all the positive virtues of might, unity, state-building acumen, and self-confidence. This trope, designed to build self-esteem, established a matrix through which all the national symbols – from heroic sculptures to ethnographic detail, from folk music, legends and heroes to public ceremonies – were defined. Henceforth, popular culture would be yet another realm amenable to social engineering.

(Keyder 1997: 45)

It was with a decision of the government, dated November 15, 1925 that the location of the first museum to be founded by the new republic was donated to the Ministry of National Education. The first intention was to build a museum of archeology, and then it was changed to be a museum of painting and sculpture. After the opening ceremony there was yet another change, finally announcing it as a museum of ethnography. This museum, built by architect Arif Hikmet Koyunoğlu in "national style", together with the building next to it used as "Türk Ocağı" stand as iconographic representations of the nation-building incentive of the new republic along an anachronistic Turkish identity. (Bozdoğan 2002: 53)

It was not until 1980 that the first private museum was founded in Turkey. This was the Museum of Sadberk Hanım by Vehbi Koç Foundation, bearing the name of the wife of its founder, Vehbi Koç. The museum opened its doors to the public on October 14th 1980 with the Sadberk Koç collection of traditional embroideries on display. It is only in the first decade of 2000 that private museums were founded one after the other, among which are, Sakıp Sabancı Museum of Sabancı University (2002), Istanbul Modern by Eczacıbaşı Foundation (2004) and the Pera Museum by Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation (2005).

When compared with the history of modernity at large which is also a history of fascination with objects, starting with the cabinets of curiosities as encyclopedic collection of objects by individuals, not only the late appearance of private museums in Turkey, but the date when they finally pop up at the stage of history is significant. The history of modernity in Turkey as outlined by Reşat Kasaba features 1980 as a turning point, which for some "signal not just a turn in but a complete collapse of the Turkish experiment with modernity" while for others, "multiplication of possibilities in the detotalized, decentered world of the eighties and nineties" signifies a more democratic and liberal modernization. (Kasaba 1997: 31-32)


Orhan Pamuk, who has not only exposed in his novels the history of modernity in Turkey as a sequential story all the way from the Ottoman period, but has also become an actor of that history himself, both by the books he has written and by the controversy he has personally created, would fall into the second group mentioned by Kasaba. In his recent novel The Museum of Innocence (Pamuk 2009; Masumiyet Müzesi, Pamuk 2008) Orhan Pamuk tells the story of Kemal who becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lost love. There is a section on "Collectors" where two types of collectors are mentioned: "1. The Proud Ones, those pleased to show their collections to the world (they predominate in the West). 2. The Bashful Ones, who hide away all they have accumulated (an unmodern disposition)." (Pamuk 2009: 503)

While Kemal tells his story of collecting items in the 1990's from the bashful collectors, we almost expect to meet Mithat Esmer as one of these fictional characters bearing a private wound:

… living in societies where collecting is not a reputable act that contributes to learning or knowledge, the Bashful regard their compulsion as an embarrassment that must be hidden. Because in the lands of the Bashful, collections point not to a bit of useful information but rather to a wound the bashful collector bears. (Pamuk 2009: 504)

In the documentary film Pelin Esmer made on her uncle, Koleksiyoncu (The Collector, 2002) Mithat Esmer bitterly says "Our people are the ones who have the least interest in collections." His observation foresees Pamuk's description of bashful collectors who feel that "collecting is not a reputable act that contributes to learning or knowledge." The Museum of Innocence was published in Turkish at about the same time when Pelin Esmer had finished writing the script of 10 to 11 and was working on the production of her film.(4) This coincidence of interest may be attributed to the fact that personal museums, collecting and collectors were highlighted in Turkey as a "reputable act" only in the first decade of the 21st century. As Pamuk says in his novel even in the 1990's, "the collectors of Istanbul were secretly contemptuous of themselves and of their obsessions". (Pamuk 2009: 508)


Keyder attributes the critical difference between modernization-from-above and modernization as a self-generating societal process to the exercise of state power by the modernizers as agents with their own interests in the former case as opposed to the latter. He argues that the historical genesis of the state tradition in Turkey delimited the scope of modernity, thus undermining their avowed goal of Westernization. (Keyder 1997: 39) "Modernization-from-above came to mean modernization of the solitary nation but not of its individual members, who were expected to continue living in their gemeinschaftlich universe newly constructed under state auspices." (Keyder 1997: 46) This required a continuation of the imposition from above, which resulted in a sequence of military interventions in the history of the Turkish republic, in May 27th 1960, March 12th 1971 and September 12th 1980 when the Turkish Armed Forces openly took over the government of the country.

In an unforgettable scene of the film, we witness a sound recording of the 1960 coup d'état, announced at radio. Mithat Esmer has recorded this historical moment and he replays it when he has taken his sound recording machine for mending. From the voice of Alparslan Türkeş, a well-known political figure in the later history of nationalism in Turkey, we hear the sound recording of May 27th, 5.40 AM:

The voice of the trusted Armed Forces will address you in one minute. Due to the current crisis of democracy and recent lamentable incidents and at the same time to avert a battle between brothers the Turkish Armed Forces have taken over government of the country.

After they have listened to this announcement, Mithat Esmer and the elderly mender exchange memories, and the mender recounts that there were tanks in Beyoğlu, the main street in downtown İstanbul. Mithat Esmer says "it's unbelievable". They try to rewind and to listen once more, but since the machine does not rewind, they cannot. During the first screening of the film in Istanbul International Film Festival (2009) the audience of the full-movie theater rejoiced this moment with laughter and applause, filling in the subtext of the film.

Mithat Esmer's sincere bewilderment may also be read as a representation of the common feeling of Kemalist cadre inducted as agents of the project of modernity, of their failure to grasp the limits of modernization-from-above. In real life and by origin, Mithat Esmer is almost an iconographic image of the technocratic aspect of the Kemalist ideology transformed with the end of the second war politics: He ventures out to the Stanford University in the United States together with other bright students from Anatolia to come back to Turkey as a member of the cadre inducted as agents of modernity in the 1940's. The scholarship comes from Sümerbank, a state company founded in 1933 as one of the cornerstones of the state corporate economy of the 1930's.(5) It turns out however that the country has no means to accommodate him and he becomes a bashful collector instead.

Mithat Esmer becomes a tragic film character in this context, undermining his own collection by letting Ali become aware of his legal rights and liberating him to venture out into the city. Ali's unawareness of his legal rights is an example "that legal and political conditions for a popular appropriation of modernity" cannot be created by imposition from above. "This can be accomplished only when the legal and political conditions for a popular appropriation of modernity are created – in other words, when the legal basis for citizenship rights and the foundational requirements for individual autonomy ad established." (Keyder 1997: 46)

The fictional character of Ali becomes an agent of change, transforming himself as well as the collector in the film. In this respect, Pelin Esmer treats Ali not with his "dishonesty" in exchanging items from the collection for the rent of an apartment which will set him free from the "Safety Apartments" but by his alternatively liberating Mithat Esmer from the burden of his collection. The power of the film is its refrain from judgment. Whether Mithat Esmer is set free as an intellectual by a member of the masses, someone with a provincial background or whether he is ripped by the man he liberates depends on individual interpretations of the audience. Those who still tend to fall towards the "high modernism" end of the spectrum and those who are more optimistic about hybrid versions and "alternative modernisms" would probably have different answers to this question.(6)

The Positivist Obsession with Time

A linear conception of time, past – present – future in a neat sequence to follow one another, as well as a teleological notion seeing development inevitable, are among the features characterizing the voluntarism of social engineering models which inspired the modernization movement from the Ottoman to the Republican period in Turkey during the turn of the century from the 19th to the 20th and during the first decades to follow. Kemalism nourished this heritage, transforming it into a fascination with technology and engineering. Mithat Esmer is a perfect example of this fascination, both by his background in electrical engineering and his positivist obsession with time as the main aspiration of his collection.

The modernist obsession with time as practiced by the newly founded republic was brilliantly criticized by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, in his novel The Time Regulation Institute first serialized in 1954, and later published in 1961. A multileveled metaphor, the time regulation institute has the aim of modernizing, homogenizing and transforming all levels of the society by cutting their ties to their recent history. (Tanpınar 1992) Mithat Esmer stands as a personalized version of this "institute", meticulously checking if the clocks he puts in his collection show the exact time. When he takes yet another clock which is slow to the vendor, the vendor teases him, saying that he always seems to be getting the slow ones. Mithat Esmer answers with the precision of a devoted engineer: "I want a clock that's neither slow nor fast". He is skeptical of the electronic clocks in particular and he checks them for a whole year, making notes of their performance, before he takes the batteries out and puts them in the collection. One clock thus tested is "10 minutes slow in 193 days" and it shows 10 to 11. And thus the name of the film.

Mithat Esmer's conviction that time moves forward and development is for the better and towards the dominance of science is revealed in his conversation with a doctoral student he meets in a cemetery he visits right after he has taken the slow clock back to its vendor. He sees cemeteries as a waste of space. With a hint that he is an atheist and does not have Muslim faith, he says to the young woman, "Perhaps by the time you get old, cremation will have been legalized."

Mithat Esmer's fascination with a manually powered torch becomes a metaphor for the values he cherishes. He explains to Ali why this small torch is a clever invention. It is economical and it operates without batteries. In the final and touching scene of the film, once he finds the missing volume in Ali's deserted and dingy basement floor, he goes out into the darkness of the staircase and we hear just the sound of the hand operated torch. Sensitively outweighed with the opening titles, running with the rich street sounds of the city at the background, the end titles run with the sound of the hand operated torch, implying the loneliness of Mithat Esmer, yet his determination to survive in the deserted building in his own private universe.

The story is woven with so many intricate details that it is almost a hypertext with cross-references for a careful audience, though nothing is underlined or verbalized by the director. The same hand operated torch, which sounds as a melancholic companion to the sadly distancing footsteps of Mithat Esmer, has the touch of hope when it leads Ali to the fourth floor to see the new apartment for the first time. His daughter will no longer be suffocated with asthma in the dampness of the basement once they move there, the family will be reunited and start a new life in the city, Istanbul will accept and nourish them, all thanks to the collector's items which would have been wasted in boxes anyway. What ends the story of one, starts the story of the other; suggesting in a subtle way, an elliptical rather than a linear pattern of time.

When describing his sound-recording machine, Mithat Esmer says: "It's a great machine. It records everything faithfully". Having devoted all his life to the recording and preservation of time, his collection has become an embodiment of time itself, and his apartment a space where time materializes in collector's items. His obsession with the missing 11th volume of the non-finished encyclopedia of Istanbul may also be seen as a compulsive drive to put the "hassle of the city" into order at least in his own domain. The city goes on with its hassle however, yielding itself not to Mithat Esmer but to the newcomers, who learn how to survive there and by learning, transform the city as well as themselves.

Istanbul versus the Provincial in Films Featuring Modernity

Istanbul was always the center of cinema in Turkey, even during the 1930's when Ankara was the star of the republic in architecture and city planning.(7) It was not until 1950's that Istanbul became a cinematic city however, featuring in films as an active agent whose life and change signified the level of modernity. Due to the change in economy and the elections of 1946, (first elections ever after the foundation of the republic) Istanbul quickly became a center of attraction with its industry and commerce. The elections of 1950 mark a watershed year in that respect, since with the end of the one party rule, migration from Anatolia to Istanbul increased in unprecedented numbers. Thus Istanbul versus the provincial became a popular theme of the films in the 1950's and 1960's.

A landmark film with this theme is Istanbul Geceleri (Nights of Istanbul, Mehmet Muhtar, 1950) since it is iconographic in its portrayal of the provincial newcomers to Istanbul. Until 1970's, train was the main route from Anatolia to Istanbul and Haydarpaşa, the train station on the Anatolian shore of Istanbul the main entrance to the city. The façade of the building faces the city and those who come by train suddenly face the city and the sea once they reach the steps of the building. Since the population of Istanbul almost doubled from 1945 till 1960, and once again by 1975 reaching almost four millions, by mid-seventies about three out of four were newcomers to the city and most of them had the same image of arrival, passing through the impressive building of Haydarpaşa and facing the sea for the first time. Nights of Istanbul was early to grasp this image, which was reproduced in many films to follow.

The protagonists of the film, two provincial men who find themselves on train by mistake and decide to continue the journey once they meet a beautiful woman on the train, make it clear from the beginning that their incentive to go to a big city is their intention "to conquer its women". They are confident that the city, just as its women will yield themselves to their macho attitude and to their manliness. The city however ridicules them. They do not know how to behave in an urban environment and they do not fit in. The message is clear: If they insist to stay and to merge in, they have no chance. One of them gets killed when he insists to dance with a girl. His last words are "We were having such fun, yet it did not end like that". The other decides to go back, seeing that he cannot cope with the big city.

A similar message is given with a film of the 1960's, Gurbet Kuşları (Birds from Elsewhere, Halit Refiğ, 1964). The provincial family, making their entrance to Istanbul with the same iconography, falls prey to the big city and the family falls apart. The story is quite similar to the Italian neo-realist classic of Luchino Visconti, Rocco and his Brothers, from 1960. The ending is different however: While in the latter, one of the brothers stays in Milan, working in a car factory, Refiğ, the Turkish director sends the family back to the Anatolian town they have come from, with the clear message that Istanbul is no place for them.

Even in early 1970's, as in the films of Ömer Lütfü Akad, the fate of the newcomers remains the same. In Gelin (The Bride, 1973) and Düğün (The Wedding, 1973), both the iconography of arrival and the way the city treats the provincial ones are similar. The naïve surprise of the bride of the extended family when she sees the sea first time and her eager first encounter with the city is soon to be replaced by sheer despair in the former film and the disintegration of the family ends with disaster in the latter one.


The trend to see Istanbul as a meeting point of the city and the provincial still continues. Films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, may be more familiar to the western audience than at home, especially his earlier work, focus on this issue. His first two feature films Kasaba (The Small Town, 1997) and Mayıs Sıkıntısı (Clouds of May, 1999) are about the claustrophobia imposed by the provincial life and the urge to leave. In his third feature film Uzak (Distant, 2002) the protagonist finally ventures out to Istanbul, to stay with a relative who has a studio of photography in Istanbul but who still feels as a stranger here and who looks at the city as a distant dream. Awarded Grand Prix and the Best Actor Price at Cannes International Film Festival in 2003, Uzak made Ceylan a star in Western world and paved the way for his later films to enjoy large audiences in Europe and the United States. Ceylan is now an internationally acclaimed director, considered to be one of the main representatives of what has generally come to be known as "New Turkish Cinema" with reference to films made since the 1990's. Striking cinematographically, yet sharing with films of the 1950's and 1960's the same traumatic clash with the city, Uzak looks at Istanbul as a distant dream, just as its title suggests. The poster of the film, and also the cover of the book New Turkish Cinema (Suner 2009) portray from different angles not the newcomer but the photographer, looking at the monumental persona of Istanbul from afar, with a feeling of loneliness and melancholy.


Pelin Esmer represents a fresh viewpoint in this sense, since she presents the city neither as a distant skyline, nor as an intimidating persona but as a lively organism with its crammed streets, street-vendors, second-hand shops, and the ongoing buzz of its soundscape. She does not treat the "Safety apartments" with a sense of nostalgia or a sense of loss; neither does she treat Mithat Esmer, a member of elitist middle class, as a victim. On the contrary, she sees in Ali an opportunity to liberate Mithat Esmer from his collection which victimized him. There is a beautiful scene towards the end of the film when we see Mithat Esmer sitting for the first time in front of the building, at the same chair where we have usually seen Ali sit and smoke. This image is a hint that they have literally changed places and it is now the elderly man's turn to venture into the city with a new perspective.


Bozdoğan, S. and Kasaba, R. (eds) (1997) Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, USA: University of Washington Press.

Bozdoğan, Sibel (2002) Modernizm ve Ulusun İnşası: Erken Cumhuriyet Türkiyesi'nde Mimari Kültür, Istanbul: Metis.

Çiçekoğlu, F. (2007) Vesikalı Şehir, Istanbul: Metis.

Çiçekoğlu, F. (2008) "Sabiha in Public Istanbul" in: Erchardt, Frank and Wildner, Kathrin, Public Istanbul: Spaces and Spheres of the Urban; Bielefeld: Transcript.

Kasaba, R. (1997) "Kemalist Certainties and Modern Ambiguities", in: Bozdoğan, S. and Kasaba, R. (eds) Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, USA: University of Washington Press, 15-36.

Keyder, Ç. (1997) "Whither the Project of Modernity: Turkey in the 1990's", in: Bozdoğan, S. and Kasaba, R. (eds) Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, USA: University of Washington Press, 37-51.

Pamuk, O. (2009) The Museum of Innocence, New York: Faber and Faber. Suner, A. (2009) New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity and Memory, New York: Tauris.

Tanpınar, A.H. (1992) Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü, Istanbul: Dergah.

(1)Screened for the first time in Istanbul International Film Festival (2009) where it received the Special Prize of the Jury, 10 to 11 was also awarded Best Film and Best Screenplay at Adana Golden Boll Film Festival (Turkey), Best New Middle Eastern Director at Middle East International Film Festival (UAE) and FIPRESCI Award at Tromso International Film Festival (Norway). 10 to 11 made its world premier in 2009 San Sebastian Film Festival (Spain) as official selection for competition. 11e10kala.com (February 26, 2010)

(2)This section takes as reference the proceedings of the symposium "Rethinking the Project of Modernity" held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. Edited by Sibel Bozdoğan and Reşat Kasaba with an introductory article and the title "Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey" this volume marks a turning point in the understanding of modernity in Turkey as a project in the wider scope of modern world.

(3)Wendy M.K.Shaw argues that museums and collecting was an important feature of the modernization during the Ottoman period. See: Shaw, M.K.Wendy, (2004) Osmanlı Müzeciliği: Müzeler, Arkeoloji ve Tarihin Görselleştirilmesi, Istanbul: Iletişim. (Translated by Esin Soğancılar. Original title: Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archeology, and the Visualization of History in the late Ottoman Empire)

(4) Pelin Esmer received Hubert Balls Script Development Fund from Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2007 and worked on her script during 2007-2008.

(5) http://www.sumerholding.gov.tr/tarihce.html (February 27, 2010) Although beyond the limits of this article, it would be worthwhile to note that the history of Sümerbank, how it was founded and named by Atatürk (the name Sümer denoting the Anatolian heritage as an aspect of creating an anachronistic Turkish identity based on ethnicity) is quite interesting in the formation of the mentality of Kemalist cadres.

(6) "High modernism" is used in the same sense as Bozdoğan (2002: 17-18) with reference to James C. Scott and his book Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998) New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. "Alternative Modernities" is used with reference to the concepts of convergence and divergence, developed by Dilip Parameshvar Gaonkar and his colleagues at two conferences at Northwestern University (April 1996) and the India International Center, New Delhi (December 1997) and later published as: Parameshvar, G.D. (ed) (2001) Alternative Modernities, Durham, London: Duke University Press.

(7)This section is written with reference to the book (Çiçekoğlu 2007) Vesikalı Şehir (The Whore of a City) and the article (Çiçekoğlu 2008) "Sabiha in Public Istanbul" by the author.