During the 1960-70s the ‘Yeşilçam’ (Green Pine) Turkish Film Industry was at its peak. By churning out a staggering 250-300 films a year between 1968-1974, Turkey had become the third largest film producer in the world. Whilst a large number of these productions were low in quality and were made on the back of very little funding, many of these movies are held in high regard and still widely adored across Anatolia today. With the increase in popularity of television and the political turmoil which plagued Turkey from the end of the 1970’s and throughout 1980’s, the countries cinema fell into decline and by the early 1990’s the country was producing 20-25 films a year.
(Below are two links to articles on the topic of the Turkish Film Industry written by other members of the Turquazz Team)
Then in 1996, Yavuz Turgul, a well-known Turkish director who had worked on some of Yeşilçam’s most renowned productions in previous years, released the movie ‘Eşkıya’ (The Bandit). The movie tells the tale of an old bandit from Eastern Anatolia named Baran (played by legendary Turkish actor Şener Şen) who has spent the last 35 years in prison. Upon his release, Baran finds out it was his best friend who had given him up to the police and that this man had run off to Istanbul with his lover after his incarceration. After learning this, Baran takes a train to Istanbul in order to wreak revenge on his former friend and to find his old love.
Despite being a classic tale of vengeance and love, there are two prominent underlying themes of social commentary in this film which add an extra layer to this story. The main being the contrast between old and new which we see predominantly through the interactions between Baran and a young low-level criminal named Cemali who he befriends on his journey to Istanbul and the two men form a bond. The other being the contrast between urban and rural life which can be seen through Baran’s shock and awe of Istanbul. In some scenes we see the old bandit from the mountainous regions of Eastern Anatolia show mannerisms depicting a great sense of remoteness to his new surroundings as if a stranger in a foreign land.
The movie became so popular in Turkey upon its release that an estimated 2.5 million people went to see it in cinemas across the country. The movie was also shown in Germany due to the country’s large Turkish migrant population with an estimated 300,000 people going to see it. This was a staggering amount in comparison with previous Turkish productions that had been released in the same decade with the majority of these movies having an estimated number of box office viewers of around 150,000. With this enormous spike in ticket sales for Eşkıya and its widely positive reviews, Turkish cinema began to see a resurgence as the success of this movie had swung open the door for other productions which would follow in later years. A prime example of this being the 2001 film Vizontele which sold 3.3 million tickets and led Turkish cinema into the 21st century with significant momentum.
Eşkıya is more than just a classic tale of vengeance and love with interesting social commentary on the time and place it was produced in. It’s release and success marked a turning point in the Turkish film industry and it is seen by many as the foundation for later productions which make up Turkish cinema today. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in cinema to watch this film.
The entire movie is free to watch on Youtube with English subtitles. Please follow the link below.