For Dignity and Life
Who built the skyscrapers in the gleaming metropolis? Workers, who often pay for economic growth with their lives. A new film from Turkey shows their everyday life and their hopes. Review by Phil Butland
Ibrahim (Menderes Samancilar) works at great heights. He is a Kurd and a building worker, who builds skyscrapers that he could never afford in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul. The work is precarious, irregularly paid, and Ibrahim finds it difficult to keep his head above water. On top of his own subsistence he must send money to his wife and children. Their house was destroyed by an earthquake and now they live outside the city.
Yusuf (Musab Ekici) is Ibrahim‘s nephew, but does not want to end up like his uncle. Yusuf’s strategy largely lacks solidarity – he sucks up to the foreman and dreams of one day setting up his own company. When discontented workers complain about their working conditions and consider strike action, it is Yusuf who grasses them up to the foreman.
Apart from a couple of tragic exceptions, very little happens in the film, as very little happens in Ibrahim’s and Yusuf’s life. Yusuf flirts with his new girlfriend Nihal (Kübra Kip) and writes her poems with the help of a workmate who is studying law. Ibrahim, in search of money, bets on a bout of cock fighting. But this brings him more horror than joy.
Despite the despair, the film emits a lust for life. Director Kıvanç Sezer manages to find beauty in the concrete monstrosities that Ibrahim and Yusuf are building. Passing flocks of birds bring the landscape poetry. Yusuf and Nihal’s nascent relationship brings hope for the future.
Which makes it all the more sad when Ibrahim is diagnosed with a deadly illness (“THE deadly illness”, he says, unable to articulate the word “cancer”). His doctor tells him that he must stop working during his treatment. But officially Ibrahim has only worked for 1071 days in his life – and 1800 are necessary for the right to insurance. In reality, the 54 year old has been working for 40 years, but his precarious work is not recognized by the insurance firm.
Es Ibrahim falls deeper into debt, his boss cheats the workers out of their wages through dubious subsidiary companies. Ibrahim’s everyday life is determined by a perpetual class struggle in which he feels absolutely powerless.
Director Sezer has spoken clearly in interviews. His film is about “about a system in which the workers don’t bear a value beyond their economical presence… In these sub-contracting and insecure working conditions, human life is just a replaceable element for the sake of profit.”
The film does not end with a great victory, but at least there is a small act of resistance. The system’s profiteers maintain their assets, although it is possible to maintain a shred of human dignity.
But dignity is not enough. In Turkey three workers die every day from avoidable industrial accidents. Kıvanç Sezer is fighting to change these conditions. “My Father’s Wings” is the first part of a film trilogy, which will question and denounce working and living conditions in Turkey.
The HDP/HDK Berlin is showing the film in December in the presence of the director. It does not just promise to be a fascinating evening, but also a step forward in the fight for dignity and justice. Hopefully similar events will soon be offered in other cities.