As COVID-19 shakes the lives of everyone, the world has been in utter darkness recently. Most of us probably recall or have rewatched movies on infectious diseases like "Contagion" during our time in self-isolation. For me, one of the movies that comes to mind was "Buğday" (Grain) by Turkish filmmaker Semih Kaplanoğlu as it is quite similar to our reality today.
Kaplanoğlu, who received many awards for his first film “Herkes Kendi Evinde” (Away from Home) and many other awards for his later films, has attracted greater attention with his “Yusuf Trilogy,” which consists of the films “Bal” (Honey), “Süt” (Milk) and “Yumurta” (Egg). While “Bağlılık-Aslı” (Commitment-Aslı), the first film of “The Loyalty Trilogy,” had been submitted by Turkey for consideration in the Academy Awards' best foreign-language film category, the filming and post-production stages of “Hasan,” the new film of the trilogy, was completed. Kaplanoğlu's award-winning dystopian film “Buğday,” which began its journey in festivals in 2017, appears as a production that is rich with symbolism and metaphors.
In an uncertain time and an uncertain place, people try to create a new life although the environment was completely ruined by humanity. Their aim is to get the best product through artificial seeds. Revealing the point of horror where humanity is full of acid rain, infectious diseases and non-growing seeds, "Buğday" also touches on the immigrant issue with its distinction between the habitable zone and the forbidden zone called "dead lands." The very impressive opening scene shows that some scientists choose healthy children with a high capacity for the habitable zone, which mirrors the very similar way that Western countries select refugees.
Starring Jean-Marc Barr and Ermin Bravo, the movie refers to a large range of subjects including famine, drought and genetic studies. However, it also questions the individual's return to himself, his inner beliefs and the reason for his existence through the quest of Erol, played by Barr. Kaplanoğlu bases this character's journey on the Prophet Moses' quest to find absolute truth, which is written in the Al-Kahf (The Cave) surah of the Quran, to imply that to find ourselves we must first set off on a journey to our inner selves.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Kaplanoğlu said that “Buğday” takes place in an “indefinite present time.” Indicating that he started thinking about the script for this movie in 2011-2012, Kaplanoğlu continued: “It was written in 2013. It was a period when the Syrian civil war broke out and refugees started to flow slowly toward the borders. However, we had had this refugee issue in the 1990s during the invasion of Iraq."
"Frankly, I have been seeing the course of the world for the last 10 years. The refugee problem, famine and climate disasters that are happening in the world today and the viruses and epidemics that are knocking on our door recently are actually the situations that people have experienced in various periods in the past. They even caused certain civilizations to disappear in history. While I was writing the story, I was aware of all this. I started to think that these disasters will happen in the near future, not in a distant future. This is because it was something foreseeable when you read a lot of things like U.N. reports and environmental organization reports.”
In the movie, a line says: "We cannot create the perfect seed, what are we overlooking?" These days have not been a surprise for Kaplanoğlu, and he thinks what we, as humanity, miss is that the world does not belong to us. “We have been living with a consideration that the world, even life, is something that we have made and that we are alone in the universe. We think we know everything in the evolving environment of science and technology. I think we are going through a process of realizing that everything is interconnected. If we start to disrupt the balances in one thing, we are actually starting to break the whole. I wonder if we can realize this consciousness of unity through what we have experienced today?”
Kaplanoğlu said: “We have got beyond the limits in certain areas – in consumption particularly. Many objects and materials we have produced, and lifestyles disrupt the balance of the world, nature and naturally our own balance. Let us consider the Iraq war as an example. They alleged that there were weapons of mass destruction with no evidence – they accept it now – and occupied a country, and nearly 2 million people died there. The innocent people died. Great tragedies happened there, giving rise to migration. Here, we look at Syria today and see similar problems. Globalism is only global for some groups, some countries, some classes and some people. For the majority, it is damning and limiting. Human beings have been deprived of all kinds of rights, including the right to life. The pain caused by the capitalist system is the basic view of exceeding the limit.”
Back to the migration problem in the movie, we see that people are taken into elite cities after an examination of their brains which reminds us of how Western countries choose refugees according to specific criteria. Also, French scientists recently stated that COVID-19 medicine can be tried on Africans. The filmmaker said this situation is a very unfortunate and sad point of view. “As we live with such bad ideas, coronavirus has confined us home. Yes, currently, if refugees fit into certain categories, if they have a profession, if they answer the purpose and if they are healthy, they are accepted at the borders. Otherwise, the right to life is taken away from them.”
“The issue we constantly discuss on TV or social media is 'How can we get rid of coronavirus? What will happen?’ et cetera. Right now, we actually need to talk about agriculture. Are we able to plant? Are farmers in Turkey's agricultural basins able to work as before and meet the requirements for producing their products? Are they provided with fertilizer and pesticide that they need? What is currently being done for agriculture? These are crucial issues. Because if we cannot plant, more serious problems will break out. I think inertia prevails in the general sense and there is a shock. Maybe because of that shock, we are focused on the moment, but I think we need to take a good look at the coming period,” he added.
Kaplanoğlu, as a director, believes that filmmakers should produce utopias in this period. “We have to dream about in what kind of an order the life will continue from now on. We should think on how we can create better conditions for us to survive. If we are to shed light on our hidden and unspoken values that we can present to humanity as a society, culture and civilization, we need to produce new thoughts. Of course, as individuals, we have contributed to the fact that the world has become like this. We have to undertake the responsibility for this. But, as Turkey's artists, thinkers and intellectuals, we need to reveal the human values of our culture again with utopias.”
According to him, every civilization in the world has an accumulation. We have to look at that accumulation again from the same way as our culture. We need to find channels to share the full story of our human journey like he did in “Buğday.”