A boy and a dog in a tale very different from what might be expected.



Whether or not they turn sentimental, most films centred on the bond between a child and an animal are geared so as to appeal to a family audience. But here is one that isn't. Sivas, a first feature film by Kaan Müjdeci, is set in a village in Turkey where life is tough and, although it is concerned with an eleven-year-old boy, Aslan (Dogan Izci) who adopts a Kangal sheepdog, the story is one that echoes the harsh life style and the macho outlook which seems inbred in this part of the world. Animals may feature prominently but the attitude to them is evidenced early on when a horse that is no longer profitable is ruthlessly cast out.


The sheepdog, Sivas, named after the place that breeds them, does not appear immediately. The film first establishes Aslan as a youngster sensitive to being teased and jealous when his school puts on a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and he is cast as a dwarf and not as the prince. He had wanted the role to impress Ayşe (Ezgi Ergin) the girl he dotes on and who is playing Snow White. Dogfighting only comes up later. Although illegal, this activity is very popular in the region and it is on attending one such gathering that Aslan comes across Sivas. The dog is the loser in the fight and is left for dead, but the animal has survived and Aslan feels for it and persuades his older brother Şahin (Ozan Çelik) to bring the dog home for him. Becoming its new owner in this way may be further evidence of Aslan's sensibility, but the fact is that owning Sivas also gives him status. Achieving that is a major consideration for him and, once the dog has recovered, he is supportive of continuing its participation in fights (winning them would be seen as prestigious for the village and its headman is a keen supporter of this). 


These attitudes, together with a good deal of strong language from men and boys alike, come across as authentic. Indeed, portraying rural Turkey as it really is appears to be the prime objective of the writer/director and, aided by the naturalism of his players (not least award-winner Dogan Izci who is very much centre screen throughout), he achieves this even if we do see very little of the women in the village. The pacing which some have apparently found slow seems just right given this aim and Müjdeci uses the dogfighting to bring home his criticism of the outlook adopted by the males in this community.


In view of that, it is rather ironic that, although Sivas won the Special Jury Award at Venice in 2014, that festival screening became known for the boos heard at the film's close. Since this was on account of the dogfighting scenes in it, it is worth recording that these are three in number of which the second is quite brief and viewed in long shot while the third finds the camera concentrating principally on those watching it. Undoubtedly the first fight shot in close-up is uncomfortable viewing, but it is the one in which Sivas is nearly killed and is central to the story. Given the stance taken by the film at its touching conclusion, one can only assume that, regardless of its clearly implied message, some viewers at Venice simply refused to believe the concluding statement that no animals were harmed in the making of this film. But as it stands Sivas offers a slice of life that rings true without ever suggesting that dogfighting is something that we should approve.




Cast: Dogan Izci, Cakir, Ozan Çelik, Ezgi Ergin, Hasan Yazilitas, Hasan Ozdemir, Furkan Uyar, Muttalip Müjdeci, Okan Avci, Banu Fotocan.


Dir Kaan Müjdeci, Pro Kaan Müjdeci and Yasin Müjdeci, Screenplay Kaan Müjdeci, Ph Armin Dierolf and Martin Solvang, Art Dir Meral Efe Yurtseven and Yunus Emre Yurtseven, Ed Yorgos Mavropsaridis, Costumes Ayṣe Yildiz.


Coloured Giraffes-MUBI.
97 mins. Turkey/Germany. 2014. Rel: 23 September 2020. Available on MUBI. No Cert.