The factors that influenced the film’s development:
The idea that Islam forbids human depiction.
I have always been interested in cross-cultural interactions and cultural exchange and transformations. If we look at Anatolian Turkey during the past several centuries we see that one of the most important driving forces has been Anatolia’s efforts in trying to establish a balance with the many European countries with their many different cultures.
I personally am intrigued by this very charged subject, a subject that has been largely ignored by the Turkish cinema. As I see it, among those subjects open to debate is the idea that Islam forbids human depiction. I would like to underline here that certain Muslim theologians claim that there is actually no such Islamic proscription. (In point of fact we can see very different approaches to depiction prohibitions in various Islamic countries and that these prohibitions largely depend on the personal convictions of the ruling authorities.) For various cultural and religious reasons, it was only in the 18th century that Turks were first introduced to the Western (European Renaissance) painting tradition. This period of introduction comprises the kind of potentials in content and form that could lead to very exciting results. Several historical narratives that I have come upon served as the inspiration for the story behind “Cenneti Beklerken” (Waiting For Heaven).
To give a few examples: A killer hired in 1151 to assassinate Sultan Sencer was captured thanks to a “realistic” portrait drawn by a spy. I took this historical event and transported it to the 17th century.
I set the film’s story in the midst of a long journey taken by people who were being forced to act within a struggle being carried out within pressures brought to bear by history and culture. By the end of the journey we are witness to the transformations that have occurred within the levels of consciousness of one of its characters. Undoubtedly there were certain events that greatly influenced me while I was writing the screenplay. The narrative was also inspired by the historical struggles for the throne that took place during the Ottoman Empire and the forced fratricide that was part of the Ottoman investiture process. I drew the artist figure as a man whowas caught up against his will in such a struggle for the throne. The unwanted task he was forced to undertake led to his ntroduction, in a very unexpected place, to a completely different cultural element. This cultural element was a painting that is highly reminiscent of Velazquez’s work, “Las Meninas”. As I began my work one of the first questions I started to ask myself is what kind of dramatic state would be created if an Ottoman 17th century miniaturist were presented with a painting similar to that of Velazquez’s. Bringing my character Eflatun in contact with such a painting both brought the debate into better focus while it also broadened the boundaries. There is one point that should be added before closing the subject: By the end of his journey the Eflatun character realizes that cultural differences are not tools for diversity and conflict, but actually serve to richen both cultures. All efforts were taken however, to distance the film from “essentialist” approaches.
The characteristics inherent in Ottoman miniature art expression:
This form of miniature art devoid of perspective, anatomic ratios and light/shadow rules developed in the late 14th century among the Jelayir and Muzaffer principalities that then held sway on Iran and Iraqi lands. In succeeding centuries this style spread to other Islamic countries where it developed and changed, taking on the forms of either the specific period or the master artist of the day. The Ottoman miniature tradition represents one phase in this development. From the mid-15th and up until the end of the 19th century, Ottoman miniature developed within the auspices and support of the palace, reflecting different styles of expression at different periods. When we speak of the unique characteristics of Ottoman miniature art the first things that come to mind are these: Optical illusions that provide the feeling of three-dimensions are foreign to miniature art. Miniaturists did not try to achieve a sense of perspective in the Western sense. Miniature art is devoid of such concepts as depth, light and shadows, and mass. The figures appear to be surface splashes of color. The colors are pure and unadulterated; the figures are based on line drawings, are two-dimensional, and reflect a kind of surface adornment of the manuscript. In terms of portrayal of depth the characteristics of miniature art led to this kind of practice: We have already said that there is no perspective in miniature art. For this reason the various figures or objects on the page never overlap or conceal any part of the other. To differentiate between those at the front or back of the scene, those objects towards the front are drawn at the bottom while those in the back are placed nearer to the top of the page. There is no difference in size or color shading between those in the forefront or background. The importance of the figures themselves is indicated by the size of the figure, either greater or lesser. In their nature scenes the miniaturists also depart from realistic portrayals as they search for the more beautiful ideal, creating a world they called the “alem-ül hayal” or the “imaginary world.” How does the film utilizes Ottoman miniature art form? What do we mean by the concepts of “Indeterminate Time” and “Indeterminate Place”?
I hold that inherent in Ottoman miniature are features that are highly valuable in terms of their potential contribution to cinematic language. The miniature art form is based on the concepts of indeterminate time and place. For instance, some miniatures place side-by-side two locations that are actually very distant from one another. Sometimes a place that has been depicted in one miniature will be redrawn in the following miniature, with both its color and form suddenly changing completely. In a succeeding drawing of the same location, new objects may have been added, or some might have disappeared. Or certain events that are known to have occurred at different times or in different places may be drawn together.
This film also sets off from the concept of indeterminate time and place; in a sense what I have tried to do is create a setting in which the film becomes a translated version of the miniature. Another level of indeterminate time and place is how they are used to help the Eflatun character solve his own artistic problems. In the film the Ottoman miniaturist Eflatun finds a Western (Renaissance) painting that also reflects concepts of indeterminate time and place. This painting is quite similar to the “Las Meninas” painted by the Spanish artist, Velazquez, and the painting-like Velazquez’s-also depicts a mirror, but the time and place of the scene reflected in the mirror are different from those depicted in the painting itself. Seeing this feature of Western art leads Eflatun to reevaluate his earlier beliefs about cultural differences and meeting points.
In addition to the concepts of indeterminate time and place, the film also tried to make use of other features of miniature art. At various points in the film the viewer will suddenly be presented with different subjects, forms and descriptions. I will just randomly choose one of those to describe here: I described above how the size of the figure changes-grows larger or smaller-according to the importance of the personage. A similar kind of technique was used in the film. In one of the “unreal” scenes reflected in the mirror, one of the army officers standing next to the Royal Prince Danyal is several times taller than the others.
Utilizations of Western art forms:
In the film I tried to make maximum cinematic use of certain features of Western painting, like illusions of light and shadow, and portrayals of depth. There were several reasons lying behind this use: I think the most important is that the film does not try to oppose different cultures, and show them as the “other”, but instead uses different cultures to mutually richen each other. I think that this approach is especially important given the current state of the world.
Where was the film shot?
I tried to find a location that is very similar to the kinds of locations we see in miniatures. Most miniatures depict a few mountains or a flat plain or steppe. I found that the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri and the region of Cappadocia offer the most similar kinds of scenery. Also, because it served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, I used Istanbul for some additional shooting. For the Istanbul filming I used purer colors in a way that is more reminiscent of the use of colors in miniatures. On the other hand, during the journey through Anatolia I tried-as far as possible-to use a single color of yellow.