Yilmaz Güney – Umut AKA Hope (1970)

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Plot Synopsis from AllMovie
In this bleak tragedy, a crude and illiterate man who drives a horse-drawn taxi survives his meager existence by hoping each day that this will be the day he wins the lottery. One day his coach is hit by a car, killing one of his two horses and damaging the buggy. Because the automobile driver has social standing, the traffic judge rules in favor of the automobile driver, and does not give the poor man any damages. Creditors soon remove everything from his house except the remaining horse and damaged buggy. Despairing, he strikes out at his family and anyone weaker than he is. Eventually, he joins a wandering “holy man” on a quest for desert gold, and goes mad in the process.

Additional info from Wikipedia
Filming of Umut began in April 1970 in Çukurova, Turkey following the director’s return from military service. Güney wanted Umut to be a film showing the defects and contradictions of a reality without any actualization of a revolution and the illness of the socio-economic system of its time.

Umut has a reputation for being the archetype of the revolutionist cinema and neo-realismo stream in Turkey. The film has been compared to films of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini. A lot of foreign, as well as national, cinema critics wrote about Güney’s Umut in comparison to Ladri di Biciclette by De Sica and Zavattini, an Italian production shot in 1948, which captured the Oscar prize in 1950 and is an important example of the Italian neo-realismo stream.

Review from sensesofcinema.com
Güney’s artistic breakthrough came with Umut (Hope) in 1970, generally acknowledged as his first masterpiece. In it, Güney himself plays Cabbar, an impoverished, naive horse-cab driver duped into searching for buried treasure. Those familiar with the actor/director’s earlier work will recognise the victim narratives of those violent genre films in the early scenes of Umut. But instead of getting even, Güney’s character descends further and further into delusion, until the film becomes an ironic, surreal, at times bitterly comic, repudiation of its title.

The actor’s rough persona had not prepared Turkish moviegoers for the delicate, haunting nature of his mature cinematic work. Stylistically, Umut starts off as an exercise in stark realism, and gradually shifts to a more mytho-poetic register. But maybe not mytho-poetic enough: despite numerous awards and a theatrical run, the film was eventually deemed politically subversive and banned for a period by the authorities, which only helped make Güney even more popular than before among viewers.

Umut’s troubles with the authorities proved to be prophetic in terms of Güney’s cinema. Although the 1970s were his most artistically accomplished decade, Güney would spend most of this period in prison. He was arrested again in March 1972, for harboring anarchist refugees accused of a political assassination, only to be released under a general amnesty in 1974. But he was then re-arrested in September 1974, this time for the murder of a judge during a late night drunken brawl at a restaurant, during the shooting of Endise (Anxiety). The details of the event are still not clear: Güney’s associates claimed that the director was merely recording gunshots for post-synchronisation purposes. Despite the unlikely nature of that story, much of Güney’s mythology today rests on the belief that he was wrongfully convicted. Either way, he would spend the rest of the decade, as well as the early 1980s, in prison. Amazingly, some of his most notable films from this period, including 1978’s Sürü (The Herd), 1979’s Düsman (The Enemy) and 1982’s Yol, were directed by proxy, with the convict-auteur writing, producing and smuggling out directions to trusted surrogates.

Review from Wikipedia
Güney asserted before any political action can be organized to change the economic system, the would-be actors must abandon the idea that they possess a self profoundly different from other selves, that they pursue a destiny which is uniquely their own as individuals. The basic aim of Umut is to demonstrate that people who fight alone have no alternative but to place their trust in luck (lottery) and magic (treasure hunting). Briefly, Güney tried to show ideology as ideology to those who would claim that Cabbar’s situation is a natural state of affairs. As Althusser has stated, consciousness of an ideology as ideology, is the moment in which ideology explodes, revealing the reality it had obscured.

This film, which carries some traces from Güney’s own life, manifested itself with its ability to describe the story with an extraordinary reality. Güney thought that we had to look at, to grab to, and reflect the realities of the streets we are wandering and passing rapidly through. The people shown in Umut are mostly “real” people, not actors or actresses. The environment and the living conditions are real, Güney did not use prepared film sets and lightings for Umut. The scenes showing Cabbar at home with his 5 children, wife, and mother are very good examples of his effort to show life and the environment closest to its reality. With this film, Güney introduces a kind of documentarism into the Turkish cinema.

As the neo-realismo movie makers, Güney created a cinema, where the audience is able to interpret the end of the film in whatever direction he/she wants. For instance, there is no definite ends in neo-realismo, likewise Umut’s end is not definite either, the future is uncertain.

Of course, it was not too late that Umut was censored. The prohibition of that film is a very good case to determine the social, economic, and political conditions of Turkey in 1970s. Although prohibited a copy of the film was smuggled abroad and showed in Cannes Film Festival. Afterwards, with the state council’s final decision the film was featured in Turkey as well as abroad, and attracted great attention. With this film, Güney captured prizes in Altin Portakal and Adana Film Festivals as best actor.

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