The kindness of strangers is totally overrated. This is what Tufan realises when he takes in his elderly neighbour Huriye after she has a nasty fall. The first shocker is the cost of her medicines. Another is the realisation that Tufan might be saddled with Huriye for much longer than expected since her daughter will have nothing to do with her. Tufan’s wife and young daughter are slowly pushed to the edge of civility. Life is simpler with non-humans, such as the injured crow that Tufan has picked up from the streets and which he is nursing back to health.
Tufan’s travails drive the narrative in Turkish director Vuslat Saracoglu’s Debt (the original title is Borc). Debt is one of the 13 titles in the Competition section at the International Film Festival that will run from December 7 to 13 in Thiruvananthapuram. Debt marks Saracoglu’s directorial debut. She told Scroll.in in an email interview that she has been thinking about how “evil is analysed while kindness and goodness are taken for granted and romanticised” for the past five years. “I wanted to basically ask, what is goodness,” Saracoglu said.
Apart from regretting his act of kindness, Tufan, admirably played by Serdar Orcin, has other headaches to contend with, which place his problems within the larger economic crises being faced by Turkey over the past several months. Things are no better at Tufan’s workplace, a small printing business that is going nowhere fast. The movie’s double-edged title subtly refers to the financial struggles being faced by middle-class Turkish citizens, and it is possible to see Tufan’s deeply personal quandary as a microcosm of the questions his fellow nationals might be asking themselves. In such fraught times, is it feasible, or even wise, to retain empathy and humanity for others? Might it not be better to mind your own business, since nobody else will?
“Helping someone is the main rule and an asset of our culture, but in some conditions, this can be difficult,” Saracoglu said. “When you fail to do so, you can feel that you are unable to pay your ethical debt to society. This is a real challenge for your personality. Tufan’s test is not only because of economic problems, but also because of his very normal character, which cannot give right answers in some extraordinary events.”
Serdar Orcin was cast by Saracoglu on the recommendation of the film’s cinematographer, Meryem Yavuz. “I was discussing a lot of ideas about casting with her, and she suggested Serdar Orcin to me,” Saracoglu said. “When I met Serdar, I realised that he was the right person.” The film depends heavily on the easy chemistry between the cast members, especially Ipek Turktan Turktan Kaynak as Tufan’s wife, Muko. “For the others, I tried to find actors and actresses who can be in accordance with Serdar in terms of the acting style and the personality,” Saracoglu added. “All of the actors are friends, and believe that this sincerity was reflected in the film.”
Debt won the top award at the Istanbul Film Festival in April – a feat for its first-time director, who has also assumed writing and producing responsibilities. The film is currently running in cinemas in Turkey.
“It was difficult to be a producer at the same time, but this is the case with a majority of first films in Turkey,” Saracoglu said. “In spite of this, it was not impossible. We managed in a way, with the help and support of a lot of people.” The scene for independent filmmakers in Turkey is no different than in other countries, she added. “Sometimes we get enough support, sometimes not. Sometimes we get the chance to show our films on TV, sometimes not. It depends on the theme of the film. But things are not so bad in Turkey. Every year, a lot of films are being produced.”