Written and directed by Mu Tunc
Starring Burak Deniz, Büsra Develi and Ceren Moray
Running time: 1 hour and 28 minutes
by Stacey Osbeck
In Arada, Mu Tunc’s debut feature film, it’s the 90s and punk music isn’t confined to the angst filled youth of New York and London. Istanbul has its own scene rising. The story takes place over the course of Ozan’s (Burak Deniz) birthday. Before breakfast, his father spews out what appears to be an ongoing lecture. Turkey is still so volatile, you need to be prepared when the tanks and guns come, get into business and, probably most biting of all, your music is not right for this country. On this day though, the argument reaches a point of finality. If you’re not going to listen, get out, leave the keys and don’t come back. Without packing, Ozan turns and walks out the door.
His troubles seem forgotten when he reaches the record store, surrounded by like minded friends with similar passions. They discuss musical groundbreakers and the hardcore punk show Ozan will perform in later that evening. His friend, Bulent (Deniz Celiloglu), takes him aside to tell him about a birthday surprise: California. The original holder of a cruise ticket doesn’t want it. It can be his. All he has to do is go pick it up.
At an amusement park that has seen better days, Ozan tells his girlfriend Lara (Busra Develi) of the ticket. He’s deliberately vague about what it’s for. Her mind leaps to the upcoming Bryan Adams concert and she agrees to trek across town with him.
The elusive ticket acts as a white rabbit, luring them. Bouncing from place to place, Ozan and Lara seem forever one step behind as it changes hands. It brings them to a house party with beautiful people converging on a patio in the dry heat. It draws them down a winding staircase deep into an industrial basement, turned underground dance club. It leads them to a menacing gatekeeper, smoking from a hookah, who only speaks in riddles.
In many ways this atmospheric film reads as a love letter to Istanbul. The day to day activities, ancient ruins, nightlife, plush interiors with tufted velvet furniture and chandeliers, all offer a rich flavor of what life was like there in the 90s, while these same scenes depress Ozan to no end. It’s all he’s ever known and he finds it stifling.
Traditional Turkish music seems to flourish on the main level, homes, streets, in taxicabs and restaurants. But techno dance music and punk is enjoyed in basements and attics. So physically, architecturally, when that music plays it’s on another level.
Halfway through the movie I wondered where’s the punk music? We talked about it in the record store, but when do we get to hear some? That’s actually the genius of this film and what makes Arada worth watching whether you care about punk or not.
When the culmination of helplessness and frustration and anger, of the ticket as well as the dream constantly slipping through his fingers, reaches a fever pitch, that’s when the hardcore punk blares up. Ozan bolts to his show so he can get there in time for his slot on stage. The act before rages and it clicks into place, you get what emotions, what circumstances, gave birth to such raw visceral music. The battle cry of youth, the shouting out in a world that doesn’t want to hear you.
There are other locales that scream punk more than California, but perhaps as the film is inspired by the filmmaker’s older brother’s life, there was an actual cruise ticket and the west coast was the destination? Or maybe when people say they dream of America they really mean California, regardless of their endeavors, which is understandable (swimming pools, movie stars).
Beyond whether he can snag the chance to leave or not, the bigger question tossed around throughout his journey is, even if he can go, should he? He’s so over this city he’s willing to leave with nothing but the shirt on his back and the demo cassette in his pocket. But what is Ozan hoping to gain going to America? An escape from his problems? Happiness? Sure, that’s what we all want, but will that lead to his ultimate dream of creating better hardcore punk music?
Arada is showing Thursday June 6th at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York and Sunday June 9th at PhilaMoca in Philadelphia. Tickets are $10.00 to either of these events. Mu is slated to be in attendance for both.