From A Small Tale To A Big Story

Merging the clichés of real life with fairy tales in his ‘Sleep of the Princess’, filmmaker Çağan Irmak is on the brink of something big.

Princess Sleep’ is a happy, hopeful film. How did this happen?
The point of departure for the film is Redd’s song of the same name. Something had been on my mind the last few years. People have started to get depressed a lot. In other words, there is a void in our souls that we can’t fill, especially in the big cities. It’s called hopelessness, depression… Even people for whom everything is going well have started to feel unhappy - I don’t know why. But I wanted to make a film that would make both me and the audience view life with hope, a film that would remind both me and them that life is a gift given to us. “Princess Sleep’ is my most lighthearted film, because it doesn’t take life too seriously. In a sense it also believes that life is a gift given to us. It’s very important to smile. There are many things in the film about smiling. If I explain them now, I will spoil a big surprise. It has to do with how important fairy tales are in our life. My intention was to merge the clichés of real life with the clichés of fairy tales. 

So this wasn’t a script waiting around in a drawer?
No, for the first time I didn’t open any drawers. This film is a brand new script that emerged of its own accord. I was inspired by Redd’s song and I adapted the story the songs tells to a neighborhood in Halkalı (an outlying district of Istanbul).

We’ve been seeing and hearing a lot recently about ways to find happiness, about solutions like meditation etc.
Is there a solution? Those could all just be ways of convincing ourselves. Is what’s good for you necessarily good for me? I don’t find that fixed menus mesh very well with life. Every person has to find his own solution and that’s only possible through questioning.

So, a restless and angry Çağan Irmak up to age 29… And then?
Yes, that’s how it was up to that time - I don’t know why. Maybe because I wanted to make films. Not being able to make films made me angry, irritable and unhappy. Now I’m finally making films and to that extent I have calmed down.

So you have laid down your sword?
Yes, I’ve laid down my sword.

All your films seem to appear in November. Is that a coincidence, or is there a reason?
Yes, my first two successful films, ‘My Father and My Son’ and ‘Alone’ were both released in November. It just happened that way. My other films were not commercial successes. But this is no tactic. I’m not capable of that. How shall I put it? Just like us, every film has a journey all its own. Were my unsuccessful films bad? No. Some of them just had a rough ride. ‘In Darkness’ was like that, for example. But people watch it now. Some films are popular instantaneously,  others ripen with time and are watched on recommendation. ‘The Messenger’, ‘Everything About Mustafa’ and ‘In Darkness’ were like that.

‘Princess Sleep’ is finished. Is another unhappy, down time starting for you?
You know the reason. Baring your soul to people is difficult. It makes you vulnerable. You do it in a film and people start coming at you with their own ideas, and you end up feeling spiritually naked. Actually you can feel the same thing when you come home after a very intimate conversation. A shivering of the soul… It’s all a question of how much you should reveal.

It’s not an endless process at any rate, because you’re starting work now on a new film, ‘Koca Sinan’. There is a lot of curiosity about this project. So, what is it, and what is it not?
First of all, it’s a Mimar Sinan film but it’s not Mimar Sinan’s life story. It depicts one period in his life. There’s a film about Beethoven (Understanding Beethoven) that depicts the period when Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony. It is based on one period but it’s the film that best depicts his life. ‘Koca Sinan’ also deals with one period: the building of the Süleymaniye Mosque. But I think it depicts everything, because that process sums up Sinan’s whole life.

So we are going to see only seven years of Sinan’s life?
No. There is also his childhood and youth. But let me explain in full. We are not setting out to tell Mimar Sinan’s life story.  This film depicts Mimar Sinan’s world view, the buildings he built, his falling out with Süleyman the Magnificent, and a lot of other things. Naturally it also tells his life story. That’s the crux of it.

What is the point of the film?
‘Koca Sinan’ encompasses a whole world and depicts a lot of things. Being in the minority, being in the majority, being part of the ruling elite, being in the opposition. Perhaps the point of the film is this: ‘Don’t underestimate stones. They were around before you were born and they will be around after you’re gone.’ It’s a very long stretch of time. Life, the world, the places to which we belong… There is a being that many people call ‘The Lord of Heaven and Earth’. God, in other words. This is a film about mystical union with God. A film about creating, being created and creativity.

A sort of epic then?
Yes. I’ve always wanted to make an epic film. This is a film with a very big idea. I make candid, warm-hearted films about life, but Turkish and world cinema have lost the thing we call epic. Why shouldn’t I make something that is truly ambitious? Ambitious in its ideas, that is. Such films have become a thing of the past. ‘Solaris’, for example. Or ‘Contact’… We want to get away from big ideas. When you say something big, you run the risk of major ridicule and major criticism, and maybe we are avoiding that. This film risks everything. It doesn’t try to escape or avoid anything. Yes, this is me. I think big. I have a big idea about life. Doing this is risky business because big ideas also involve big putdowns. And maybe people have abandoned epic cinema because they are afraid of that.

Are your dreams becoming more and more grandiose then?
I hate all this hooey about ‘the child inside me’. Of course I have a childlike side. Naturally I would, because my work is on the one hand extremely entertaining child’s work. I am playing a game here. But I don’t want to dwell on myself. There is a hundred years of cinema history that precedes me.

But you demonstrated such confidence and enthusiasm when you were describing ‘Koca Sinan’...
Of course I have self-confidence. But let there be no misunderstanding. The text is saying very big things, and they are things I also believe in. In a sense I am going to be an ambassador for them. Perhaps they are things most people know, about God, and about looking at life. But I will say it once again: What I have communicated is a very big thing.