‘Ethos’: how Turkey conquers Netflix with series about society’s poles
Ethos mini-series aired on Netflix in the middle of November, which is originally named Bir Başkadır. The series talks about eight different people each of whom has a different social status, religion and represents a certain culture that’s unlike others. Our newspaper’s columnist Bulat Nogmanov noted that though some similarity with French films of the past century, Ethos reflects the real state of Turkish society and recommends everybody who is interested in Turkish culture to watch it.
Turkish series with some French shade
Bir Başkadır Turkish mini-series aired on Netflix in the middle of November. In Russian localisation, the name was translated as We Met in Istanbul. In the English-speaking version, it is titled Ethos. Jumping ahead, we will say that it is probably closer to the director’s idea because in the modern world ethos means a group of people’s style of life, a hierarchic structure adopted in it and its cultural benchmarks.
While Bir Başkadır can be translated from Turkish as “like no other” or “the other”. In this regard, many people familiar with Turkish popular culture might have associations with the song Memleketim (My Homeland) performed by Ayten Alpman she recorded in 1972. However, this isn’t so simple here.
Despite the setting, from the first scenes, it feels like you are watching a French film shot in the 60s-70s of the previous century. And both the music and development of the plot intensify this feeling.
The strange thing in this series is that the French tone suddenly disappears at the end of each series when small insertions that seem to come from an archive video appear before the credits. These insertions turned out to be borrowed from Bosporus short documentary made by French director Maurice Pialat who visited Turkey in 1964 and shot six short documentaries about this country.
It is also noteworthy that Maurice Pialat said the following about Turkey of those years: “In a search of new senses about the future and without refusing traditions, Turkey met misfortune”.
In these insertions, we see scenes from Ferdi Özbeğen’s concert who tried to create some synthesis of Eastern and Western music in slight Turkish interpretation in his art. Given the fact that Özbeğen’s album was released in 1993 and titled Bir Başkadır Ferdi Özbeğen, it becomes clear what “the other” the director cites. In other words, the eternal dispute over Turkey’s role in the modern world. What is it, East or West, or some synthesis including elements of both worlds or neither of them, thus a country defining its unique identity?
Turkey’s living photo
In answer to the question why this series should be watched, we can reply: it reflects the real state of Turkish society at this moment. The series is a kind of interactive and living photo of Turkey showing its peculiarities in real time mode.
The plot develops around heroes living in Istanbul but belong to different worlds and have a completely different social status and outlook.
The story begins with one of the main heroines of the series Meryem who loses her consciousness — promising and already quite a famous actress Öykü Karayel who is famous among many Russian spectators for starring in The Magnificent Century: Kösem series interpreted her.
Then we see the main character’s appointment with a psychiatrist named Peri by Defne Kayalar and again we are amazed at the scriptwriter and film director Berkun Oya’s virtuoso work with symbolic names. If Meryem is one of the typical religious girls of Turkey burdened with care for her family and instructed by a local mullah who is the absolute authority for her. Peri, in contrast, represents that part of the rich secular society that is often named White Turks.
The meeting of two poles immediately starts to go beyond the relationships between the doctor and patient, and Meryem’s rejection of lifestyle and thought makes Peri seek professional support from her colleague — psychologist Gülbin (Tülin Özen). She, in turn, also represents a person vacillating between several worlds — secular, religious, Turkish and Kurdish. The rejection of the world Peri lives in inspires Gülbin to tell Sinan (Alican Yücesoy) all she has inside. Meryem goes to his residence once a week to do the cleaning and cook.
The story that began in the suburbs of Istanbul expands to the house of a Kurdish family — representatives of the middle class who moved here from the country’s southeast. It includes the residence of wealthy Sinan and a villa of Peri’s parents with an amazing view of Bosporus. Here we see a complex network of relationships all main characters of the series are engaged in and who are chips of different parts of one mosaic of Istanbul. With the help of this construction, the director gives us a chance to see and feel the obstacles made of stereotypes that exist between representatives of different social strata of society. For instance, Meryem reproaches what happens in Sinan’s residence while Peri and her parents look down on everything religious and very traditionally Turkish and consider that even watching popular Turkish series as damages their good name.
On the other hand, Berkun Oya shows us how the pendulum of history swung back, and the religiousness that used to be put in line with ignorance now is getting closer to the so-called “secularity” and “enlightenment” more actively and trying to occupy its seat.
Here the director should be paid tribute, in the work, he is on neither side, he doesn’t teach and threaten, neither does he point a finger. He insinuates with simple and clear creative approaches: despite the “difference”, we all live in one country, and he says that there are ways to get rid of the barriers from stereotypes and prejudice, one can be both East and Weast and at the same time be like no other.
The Turkish language has a saying that translates like sharp vinegar only damages its vessel, and this series shows the spectator that by sticking to bias we just exacerbate the general state of affairs.