Early in Burak Çevik’s haunting UNUTMA BIÇIMLERI, we are treated to the sight of a desolate frozen lake. Over this otherworldly vista we hear commentary on the images offered by Erdem Şenocak and Nesrin Uçarlar, a couple who broke up years ago for reasons that neither can quite remember. The film emerged from interviews with the two, recorded between 2020 and 2022, and their exchanges recur throughout the runtime, presented alongside spare, precisely composed images whose nominal subjects—such as a shipyard in the heart of Istanbul—often bear an obscure relation to the pair. In this particular instance, Şenocak tells Uçarlar that they (and we) are looking at Çıldır Lake, close to where he performed his military service, before adding: “You wouldn’t remember, we were separated back then.” He then relates a dream he had at the time, in which he wandered across the frozen lake, parched, until someone cut a hole into the ice and offered him a drink of water. As he speaks, we see an actual opening in the lake’s surface, out of which the hands of three figures retrieve an ice fishing net, which is then methodically arranged and rearranged. The off-screen conversation moves to the subject of dreams and soon drops out, but the camera continues to hold on the hole in the ice, in silence, for another four minutes. Eventually, the hands stop working and the net sinks back into the frigid water, out of sight.
Time and again, we are met with sequences that offer the textural, documentary-like pleasures of simply inhabiting a space, but which also take on an allegorical charge, as if
standing in for an invisible past.
In this sequence alone, which opens up a tantalizing circuit of exchange between documentation, recollection, and dream, we face the central question of UNUTMA BIÇIMLERI: How does one depict a void? Indeed, this may be the central question of Çevik’s filmography thus far. His 2019 feature AIDIYET, an imaginative reconstruction of a sordid crime from his family history, was an attempt to represent the unrepresentable, so to speak. The nominal subject of UNUTMA BIÇIMLERI—the relationship between Şenocak and Uçarlar—is comparatively more mundane, but the film is likewise structured around absences and lacunae, and its central tension remains the same.
One possible approach, suggested by that early passage, is through metaphor. Beyond its physical appearance and its relation to Şenocak’s dream, the hole in the ice serves to symbolize the submerged unconscious, the voids of memory. Similar identifications recur throughout the entirety of UNUTMA BIÇIMLERI, where relations of image and sound repeatedly tend toward the metaphorical. Time and again, we are met with sequences that offer the textural, documentary-like pleasures of simply inhabiting a space, but which also take on an allegorical charge, as if
Like Dante’s “Commedia”, then, UNUTMA BIÇIMLERI is a work both haunted by those gaps in memory which “return not to the mind”, and driven by a desire to represent them.
Arguably the most striking instance of this arrives near the end, when after a wordless foray through a fog-shrouded forest, we hear Uçarlar recite the famed opening tercet of Dante’s “Inferno”: “Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost.” Surprising though it is in this context, the invocation of Dante’s “Commedia” turns out to be a fitting one. For one thing, the epic is a recognized pinnacle of mythopoeic allegory—a vast
Like Dante’s “Commedia”, then, UNUTMA BIÇIMLERI is a work both haunted by those gaps in memory which “return not to the mind”, and driven by a desire to represent them. These efforts relate, of course, to a past that is no longer. Then again, we may consider that every act of creation is also directed at a future that is still to come. No doubt conscious of this, Çevik at one point includes construction footage of Istanbul Modern’s new building, over which Uçarlar and Şenocak discuss the director’s supposed plan to shelve the movie domestically for 14 years after screening inside the finished museum, turning it into a kind of time capsule. Whether or not Çevik plans to follow through on this suggestion, we may say of his forms of forgetting what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam said of Dante’s cantos: that they are “missiles for capturing the future”.
Lawrence Garcia is a film critic, writer, and a graduate student at York University.