Masumiyet (Innocence, 1997) is a cut in Turkish film: it slices from past to present in Turkish cinema; it severs the audience from its expectations; it carves through the lives and loves of its characters, and bleeds. The film is a carefully rendered tale of unrequited love and a haunting past that reveals the mute nature of the ambiguous present. The past dwells in the present, and the present seeks its past not only through the characters’ lives but also through the director’s appropriation of Turkish classical melodrama and self-reflexive filmmaking. Innocence is Zeki Demirkubuz’s second feature, and the genesis of his most recent film, Kader (Destiny, 2006), a prequel that transforms the viewing of its original almost a decade later. Innocence is a turning point not only for its exceptional actors and the skillful storytelling that evokes mid-1990s melodrama, but also in the way that it attempts to rethink and misplace the tradition of melodrama and spectatorship in and outside the film’s world. Instead of settling its characters and audience in a predestined life that epitomizes the structure of classical melodrama, Innocence leaves them incomplete and unsettled.
The film starts with Yusuf (Guven Kirac) in prison, on the day of his release. The warden reads his letter that says Yusuf has “no place to go.” Reading of the letter and discussing the rationality of this request are interrupted by a door that opens and closes repeatedly. This motif of doors that will not close is a device the filmmaker uses in succeeding films with varying functions. Here, it reveals framed and multiple realities; it serves as the crack in the boundary between exteriors and interiors—between the unsettling rules of the external world and the characters that have long since lost their ease. As Yusuf steps into his new life in a hotel where he will meet Bekir (Haluk Bilginer) and Ugur (Derya Alabora), we are introduced to a world of other people like him who have “no place to go,” who sit in the lobbies of cheap hotels and watch old Turkish melodramas on TV. The lobbies are like courtyards of non-places, of no belonging. The old films in the background set a fictional past for these people who live in a timeless and circular present. For twenty years, Bekir follows Ugur wherever she goes, while Ugur follows her often-jailed lover wherever he goes, in a never ending circle that is destined to continue as Yusuf slowly finds his place in this order.
The significance of Innocence resides in its believability. Having captured a limited national and international audience, yet highly acclaimed by the critics, the film resists time and becomes a locus that is enriched with Destiny. We keep revisiting this locus: the locus of love, belonging, suffering, and an impossible desire that tears apart the preconceived, predestined pattern of life. Through the cracks of reality, Innocence beckons a quest for truth where truth can only be found in love.