Movie tip: How a zoo director battles the powerful in Turkey

People can be strange creatures. They behave in a conformist manner, although they reject what is happening around them. They lack the strength or courage to protest. It is the fear of failure. Because they suffered quite a few defeats. It takes a special impulse to pull them out of lethargy and spur them to special action.

The oldest zoo in Turkey

Such a person is Fikret. For 22 years, he has been in charge of Ankara Zoo, the oldest in Turkey. He has to watch his beloved kingdom being privatized and turned into a theme park by Arab investors with the blessing of the political elite. As planners take measurements and transport the first zoo animals, Fikret develops an idea to torpedo a profitable project. This would not only mean the end of his career.

As long as the nationally famous Anatolian leopard is showing off its enclosure, there is no question of a zoo makeover. The only problem: the animal died. Fikret keeps him alive artificially, running a machine of cover-up and deception. His assistant Gamze plays a special role here.

Funny hero

A melancholic, sometimes funny hero and an outsider in a sad environment where there is always room for the absurd. And a comic plot with tragic features: part of this film recalls the style-forming works of the Finn Aki Kaurismäki. But Turkish director Emre Kayis finds a unique form for his tragicomic story.

Time and again, the 38-year-old confounds the audience’s expectations and adds new and surprising consequences to the story. This is especially true of Fikret’s act of conspiracy – apparently the first in his life. The zoo director makes the dead leopard disappear. But what happens next is beyond his control. Wild rumors abound. Was the animal kidnapped? Or did the hunter shoot him down? The fact is that the big cat and the zoo, long thought dead, dominate the news, or rather: the fake news. It is also related to the fact that the Anatolian leopard is almost extinct and is surrounded by many myths.

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But Fikret himself also undergoes an unexpected development. All his life he was used to not being seen. Even in social circles, he seems lonely. The encounter with his daughter and ex-wife makes his “invisibility” as brutally clear as possible. From the certainty of not belonging, this precise pedant formed an elitist understanding of not wanting to belong.

come back to life

Now it comes to life, at least after a few moments if you want. There are some very impressive moments when lead actor Ugur Polat pulls his character out of his bubble and makes him shine. Fikret is convinced: there is no way back to the old life after the criminal disguise. But how far will he go? Also regarding his companion Gamze? Does the budding romance between the two have a future? Many of the threads of this sometimes confusing story are suddenly cut again.

“The Anatolian Leopard” can also be understood as a parable about Turkish society. Neoliberal interests destroy established structures. Also because ruthless politicians allow it to happen. The suffering of the liquidated zoo is also the suffering of Fikret from the present. The zoo and the zoo director are a reflection of each other. Around her, people indulge in various desires and passions. Be it political utopias or hedonism. Fikret can’t do anything either. He sits between all the chairs.

Much of what viewers typically associate with Turkey under Erdogan is echoed in this sometimes fairytale-like tale without pushing itself to the fore. Fikret’s story is timeless and at the same time clearly situated in the here and now. This somewhat sluggishly directed film, extremely stylish in its form and form, can be understood as an invitation to open up to a country full of contradictions through the path of fiction.

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Information: “Anatolian Leopard” (Türkei, Deutschland, Danemark, Poland 2021), a Film von Emre Kayis, with Ugur Polat, Ipek Türktan, Tansu Bicer, Ege Aydan ua, 108 Minuten. I’m Kino

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