Turkish Straw Dogs
The American remake of “Straw Dogs” hits theaters this week, but Turkey remade the film nearly 40 years before! Ed takes a look at the politically-charged “Kartal Yuvası”.
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A young couple moves to a small rural village to start a new life together, but they find the locals less than welcoming. What begins as mere harassment becomes increasingly sinister, building to a siege on their home and an orgy of violence and bloodshed.
It’s a story about being pushed too far. In this case, all the way to Turkey.
I’m getting an uncomfortable feeling of Deja View.
When Sam Peckinpah adapted Gordon Williams’s novel “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” for his violent and cruel film “Straw Dogs”, it was received with perhaps more controversy than acclaim.
This wouldn’t seem to make it a prime candidate for an international remake, but the power of its story spoke to Turkish director Natuk Baytan.
In “Kartal Yuvası”, a young Turkish doctor named Murat and his English fiancee Mary have moved to Murat’s hometown in Cyprus to live with his mother. But the political climate has turned hostile. The locals have chased out all but two Turkish families, and their tactics are becoming ever more aggressive.
While “Straw Dogs” was Sam Peckinpah’s response to American violence in the midst of Vietnam and the wake of the Kennedy and King assassinations, Natuk Baytan has reworked the same story to comment on a very Turkish crisis that was occurring in Cyprus.
In 1963 violence broke out between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities, resulting in the Turkish Cypriots being forced out of rural areas and villages into enclaves, where many remained until 1974. But some refused to leave their homes, and this inhospitable environment forms the backdrop for “Kartal Yuvası”.
One of the film’s most obvious departures from “Straw Dogs” is with regard to its main character. Dustin Hoffman’s decidedly un-masculine David was not an acceptable archetype in Turkish culture, where men are traditionally seen as strong, macho figures. But the story requires a submissive homeowner to be ultimately pushed to the edge. So that role was given instead to Murat’s mother, and Murat himself is removed from the story almost immediately, whisked away to give medical aid to a band of Turkish rebels, never to be seen again.
The result is that the sense of isolation, alienation, and danger in “Kartal Yuvası” is decidedly more potent. One feels the animosity of an entire country against its extremely vulnerable female protagonists.
This is made even more clear by the gang of locals who persecute Mary and her future mother-in-law. From the very first scene they make their intention to force out the Turkish family clear. And the methods they employ are anything but subtle.
The film also duplicates “Straw Dogs’s” infamous rape scene. However it’s stripped of its most controversial aspect — Amy deriving pleasure from the attack. Baytan also emulates Peckinpah’s cross-cutting in this scene, and here it feels a little more pointed, switching between the rape and a woman giving birth.
Though where “Kartal Yuvası” truly differs is on an ideological level. Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” is commonly misread as a reprehensible glorification of violence. According to this interpretation, David is the hero, growing into more of a man over the course of the film, ultimately embracing his primal side to protect his wife and his home from invaders.
However, Peckinpah’s MO was to present the opposite of his message on screen. He forces his audience to witness the brutality of his characters, wanting them to be revolted by it and to examine their own nature. In fact Peckinpah saw David as the villain — inciting the violence against him.
The irony of Peckinpah’s film, then, is either missed entirely by Baytan — as it was by many critics — or knowingly ignored in order to tell a patriotic story about standing fast against those who would tear one from one’s home.
This patriotism is played up even more in the film’s final act. Most notably, the climactic siege on the Turkish home is juxtaposed with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, an actual event that occurred in 1974, the same year as the film’s production.
In addition, Murat’s mother proudly wears the Turkish flag and plays a record of Turkish Army Band music in an act of defiance. This latter sequence mirrors one in Straw Dogs, but with a nationalistic overtone not present in the original.
Overall, “Kartal Yuvası” is a fascinating example of how one story can resonate with the same power in two different cultures, but to diametrically opposite ends.
It’s not a film for the squeamish or faint of heart, however. Like its inspiration, “Kartal Yuvası” is often unpleasant and uncomfortable, and unlike Straw Dogs, it features sequences of genuine animal cruelty.
That said, for fans of Peckinpah or social commentary on film, it really is an interesting cross-cultural experience.
Thanks so much for watching, and I’ll see you next time.