The terrible tragedy that is an ongoing situation in the Mediterranean has become “valuable material” that numerous writers, directors and storytellers from very different perspectives (and with different outcomes) continue to deal with. Incredible stories, symbolic images, neorealist accounts feed a copious production of works that at times give rise to extraordinarily different approaches and visions.
This is the case for MORE (Daha), the remarkable film debut of Onur Saylak at the last Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where the camera focuses on the tradesmen in Evil, the traffickers in illegal migrants, the Charons who ferry across from one side of the Aegean to the other, quite indifferently, the masses of humankind fleeing from war, persecution, the failings of humanity, such as that in Syria. Inspired by the novel of Hakan Günday, MORE is a raw, brutal and merciless film, that hits even hardened viewers in the gut with the media showing the pain and suffering of the refugees in their haggard faces and frightened eyes.
A film that is able to masterfully, and better than many others, render the idea of the scope of the incredible defeats that all humanity has undergone in the Mediterranean Sea, transformed from the cradle into the grave of civilization. MORE immerses us in an existential degradation where relationships are encoded in a rigid victim-persecutor dynamic, where the only communication (setting aside the language barriers) is through violence. A degradation that looms over the emerald green waters of the Aegean, that rise and fall on the promising distant horizon, uncontaminated by the rotten bowels of Kandali, the village on the Turkish coast, where the refugees must pass through. They are mainly Syrians, men, women and children. Objects in the hands of traffickers with no scruples.
Ahad and Gaza, father and son, with no female figure in their lives, if not for prostitutes and unfortunate refugees who from one transfer to another end up being raped by Ahad and his mates. Unscrupulous, amoral, uncouth, violent, Ahad is a link in the bigger chain of human trafficking between Turkey and Greece. In his truck, officially for transporting fruit and vegetables, full of Syrian refugees passed on to him from other ferry traffickers, he then packs them into the basement of his garage before throwing them into the sea onto another leaking tub, this time in Greek waters, from where they will continue along the Balkan route.
Officially closed in 2016 following the much debated agreement between Turkey and the European Union, establishing that all illegal migrants and refugees arriving in Europe (mainly in the Greek islands) had to be sent back to Turkey. The application of the agreement (worth a promised € 6 million for Erdogan’s Turkey), that actually outsourced the European migration policy, causing thousands of migrants to be stranded in the Balkans, on which most of the weight of the closing of the EU borders fell. Gaining from the closing of the Balkan route, replaced by alternative paths to entering Europe (via Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia), were, of course, the resilient smugglers in human goods.
Gaza is 14 years old, a quick-witted boy, dutifully following his father’s orders, “the most important man in the world”, an efficient jailer – bread, water, a bucket for their physical needs and a minimum of air so they do not die. Every so often a cleaning. He observes them, watches them carefully with his sharp and shining eyes, like razor-sharp blades. The cistern prison is his realm of power over a mass of defenseless and frightened people.
At the end, the agonies of refugees are always the same. However, it does not always go so smoothly, sometimes there is a death. Like the child who Ahad leaves to die suffocating in the truck just before raping his mother in one of the most brutal scenes in the film. Onur Saylak is able to impart, from behind a door, not only the violence the woman is subjected to as the father unleashes his animalistic fury, but also the fact that Gaza is also a victim, who, to avoid having to hear the woman’s screams, blocks his ears cowering on the floor of the room. You cannot stop evil, so it is better to pretend not to hear it. There are only a few glimpses of humanity in the film – the paper airplanes thrown at the children from the other part of the trapdoor, in the bowels of Turkey, the attempt (immediately stopped by the father) to protect a woman from the ritual nightly visit of the clansmen.
Gaza has been bought up in evil, even if he is a good student and has passed the entry exams for the high school in Istanbul, even if, in the intervals between Good and Evil, there is a book of Jack London’s. There are only two things that Gaza can trust in in his life – his father and money. This, he learned from the former. The wars in the other part of the Mediterranean with their droves of fleeing humans offer good earnings. Gaza is only a young boy, little more than a child, who has become an adult too quickly. The roots of evil are too deep to be pulled out, the glimmers of Good too weak, the voices of rebellion too faint shouted out in the rap songs, “Hit us a thousand times, hit me on the head a thousand times boogie man, it’s always like it’s only one time”.
Ahad’s death at the hands of other human traffickers will not change the course of Gaza’s life. It is difficult to flee from a prison you are the warden of. In the Mediterranean, the migrants are not the only victims drowning.