Waiting for the Clouds (2003)

 

 

 

Director:     Yesim Ustaoglu.

Starring:     Rüçhan Çaliskur (Ayse / Eleni), Ridvan Yagci (Mehmet), Dimitris Kaberidis (Tanassis), Ismail Baysan (Chengiz), Oktar Durukan (Muharrem), Feride Karaman (Feride), Suna Selen (Selma).

an old Greek woman takes care of her sister and herself on Turkey's northeastern Black Sea Coast, haunted by not knowing what happened to her little brother 

 

Spoiler Warning:

"During the First World War, the Greek minority in Turkey, known as Pontus, were expelled from the land they called home for three thousand years."

Northeastern Turkey 1975.  On her back, an old Greek woman named Ayse carries her sister Selma from the sister's bedroom into her own bedroom.  The little boy neighbor named Mehmet comes over to visit Ayse and to watch her television.  On the television there's an announcement that a census is being held that will provide statistics on language and religion.  Two census men come to Ayse's home.  They take down the basic facts about Ayse.  She first has to show them her documents.  She says her name is Ayshe Gokce.  Then she gives the names of her father and mother.  She is a single woman and was born in Mersin in southern Turkey.  As she speaks, her sister faints.  Ayse rushes over to her sister while she tells Mehmet to go get his mother.

An ambulance is called and Ayse goes with her sister in the vehicle.  At the hospital, she sits and waits.  Later, the doctor tells Ayse that there's nothing more that he can do for hersister.  He tells her to take her sister home with her. 

Mehmet runs over to the sea coast to be with a boy that is older than him.  Mehmet asks the boy if he has ever been counted in the census?  The older boy says he's not stupid, and he won't end up in a damned orphanage just because of the census takers.  The older boy's father is still in Russia in exile for being a communist.  Mehmet says the neighbors say that his friend's father was killed on the way to Russia.  His buddy vehemently denies that gossip. 

The neighbor women knit outside and discuss an upcoming wedding.  Ayse asks Feride, didn't she just elope to get married?  Feride says, yes, when she was 13 years old.  They then talk about the coming death of sister Selma.  Ayse is going to bury Selma nearby. 

At night in her bed, Ayse is awakened by the sound of a big explosion.  Dynamite was used to catch fish.  She goes to check on Selma, who appears to have passed away.  In the morning, Ayse's women friends rush over to her house. Mehmet and the other boys rush down to the Black Sea to catch some fish that were killed by the explosion last night. 

In school it is Turkish Products Week.  The kids recite:  "Turkish products are the best products."  Selma's body is washed down by the women.  Mehmet pees his pants and the students really start laughing at him.  The teacher makes him stand in a corner. 

Ayse watches as a funeral procession of men only carry Selma's body to the local cemetery. 

Mehmet sneaks out of school to be with his buddy.  They go down to the sea shore and up into the ruins of what they call a castle.  At night Mehmet tries to sneak into his house, but his mother catches him.  She yells at him:  "Skipping school again!  I'll wring your neck!"  So Mehmet runs to Ayse's house and goes inside.  Ayse is going through her sister's belongings.  She finds a bunch of old photographs.  She shares them with Mehmet.  One of the pictures has dead bodies from the Turkish genocide of Pontic Greeks in it. 

Every year the village has a march up into the highlands of the Pontic Alps and this year's trip is set for June 15.  Ayse's friends complain that she is so distant from them these days.  She never speaks to anyone anymore.

Fadime is making preparations for her wedding.  The women pack up for the journey to the highlands. 

The village residents and their farm animals take the narrow path up into the highlands.  The women carry some fire wood up and onto the top of the highlands.  They have homes there too.  Ayse keeps getting more and more wood.  She must be expecting to stay over through the winter.  She also stays out all night once and comes down with a fever.  Feride and Mehmet watch over her.  Ayse talks about someone named Niko.  Feride asks who is this Niko?  Ayse suddenly gets up from her bed, grabs some rope and an axe, and goes for more wood. 

Up in the Alps are a lot of clouds.  Ayse sits on a rock and watches the terrain.  She stands close to a cliff.  Mehmet rushes over to her and pulls her onto the rock she was sitting on.  He asks her:  "Why don't you speak to us?"  Ayse holds him tight.  She asks God for forgiveness. 

The women "cast lead" to save Ayse's soul.  Ayse puts up with the ceremony for a little while, but then gets angry and tells the women to leave her house and leave her alone. 

It's now time for a group celebration for the wedding of Fadime.  Ayse does not attend the ceremony.  She keeps looking at a photo of her and her family when she was very young. 

Now everyone prepares to go back down to the seas coast, but not Ayse.    Feride bangs on Ayse's door, but Ayse won't come out. 

Back on the coast, Mehmet and his buddy are together.  The buddy tells Mehmet that the reason why Ayse won't talk is because Niko is a Russian spy.  At that moment, some men are let out from a van by the coast. An older man stands still looking out onto the Black Sea.  The boys wonder if he might be Niko.  The boys follow the man.  He goes to a hotel to get a room. 

Meanwhile, Ayse feeds wood to her stove. 

The old man comes down to the sea and says hello to a friend.  The two men go out in a boat.  They sing together as they fish.  The old man reminisces.  He says he has moved around a lot.  Back in 1916, his friend helped him find an escape passage to Russia for him and the other orphans.  Two years later, he went to Greece.   In 1946 he joined the partisans to drive the imperialists from that country, but the imperialists forced him back to Russia.  He has lived in Russia ever since 1947.  Now the Greek government is allowing them to return home.  But what home? 

The old man returns to the shore in the morning.  Mehmet tells his buddy that the old man speaks that same strange language that Ayse speaks.  The boys follow the old man again.  He goes into an old abandoned house and looks around.  He sees the boys watching him, so he stops to talk with them.  They ask him if he is Niko?   No, he is Tanassis.  And, no, he's not a Russian spy.  Then they get onto the subject of Ayse.

Mehmet leads Tanassis up into the highlands to Ayse's place.  She's out collecting wood.  Mehmet leads the way.  A bit out of it, Ayse thinks that Mehmet is Niko.  She talks about her sister Sofia.  Ayse says that her father was shot down along with the rest of the rebels.  She says on the long march, her mother had to leave Sofia in the snow.  She asks:  "Why did they do this to us, Niko?"  They told them the journey would be of only two days.  They had to walk weeks and weeks to get to Mersin.  The guards watched them bury their dead along the way.  She says that Niko is her brother and her name is Eleni Terzidis, the daughter of Prodromos and Marika Terzidis.  Before her father died, he made Eleni promise him to take care of Niko.  Her father trusted her. 

Ferida arrives at night looking for Mehmet.  Feride takes her son back down.  Eleni thinks that she is taking Niko away for good.  She then says that a man named Suleyman found her and Niko in the snow.  Suleyman became her new father and his daughter, Selma, became her sister.  Niko wanted to stay in the barracks with the other orphans.  Then orders came that all the orphans will be loaded onto boats and sent away.  Eleni decided to stay put.  Suleyman gave her his name and for 50 years no one suspected who she really was.  Even Selma's husband never knew who she was.  Then Selma brought Eleni back to the Black Sea in the hopes that Eleni could be unburdened from her feelings of guilt.  "But the guilt was always there," says Eleni.  And now Selma has left her too.  Her only desire now is to die up in these mountains.  Eleni doesn't even know if Niko is alive. 

The women in town say such things as:  "And all this time, she was just an infidel!"  Men in the bar get drunk and talk about digging up Ayse's body from the grave.  Tanassis' friend tells the guys they should be ashamed of themselves talking about digging up a good woman from her grave.  The men scold Tanassis for even helping the communist Tanassis. 

Two of the drunken men go down to the coast to harm Tanassis, but they only run into Mehmet and his buddy.  They grab the boys, but the older friend stabs one of the men in the mid-section.  The stabber is put into an orphanage and Mehmet is taken back to his mother.

The postman gives a letter for Ayse to Feride.  Feride and Mehmet now go back up into the highlands to give the letter to Ayse.  Ayse comes back to the coast with the two of them.  At home Ayse hugs and thanks Mehmet and his mother. 

Mehmet goes to visit his buddy in the orphanage.  The two of them switch jackets.  Mehmet creates a distraction and the buddy just walks out of the visiting room to freedom.  He gets into a boat and takes off.

The letter brought Ayse/Eleni some good news.  She starts packing up to leave the coast.  Mehmet tells her he doesn't want her to leave.  He hugs her tightly.

Eleni takes the bus for the start of the trip to Greece.   

Selanik.  [Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of Greek Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace.  Wikipedia]  Eleni goes in search of the address she was given in the letter.  It takes her awhile before she finally finds the place.  She reaches the house, but no one is at home.  So, she waits on a bench on the sidewalk across from the house.  Eleni waits into the night before friends finally drop off Niko and his wife at their home.  Eleni knocks on the door and Niko opens the door.  He does not know who this woman before him is.  She tells him that she's his sister.  He looks shocked.  Niko closes the door in her face.

A little later the wife comes to the door and invites Eleni in.  The sister-in-law gives the woman a room with a bed and tells Eleni not to think on things this night.  Just get some good sleep and things will be better and easier in the morning. 

Eleni hears the conversations about her from her relatives in the next room.  The wife asks her husband how could he turn his back on a poor old woman who might be his sister?  And she wants to know how could Niko keep such a secret from her?  Niko tells her there is no secret. He lost his entire family during the long march.  He says he still sees Sofia's little head in the snow.  She died on the march.  And then his mother died on the march.  After that he marched all alone. 

In the morning the husband and wife go out, leaving Eleni alone in the house.  Later Eleni goes out.  She walks around the neighborhood looking for Tanassis' house.  A neighbor points to where his house is, but she says he went away on a job and won't be coming back anytime soon.  The neighbor now invites Eleni into her house for some coffee.  She asks if Eleni is a Pontus Greek and Eleni says yes and she's from Trebolu. 

Later Eleni visits a cathedral. She lights a candle.  Back home, she sees Niko looking at his family photographs.  He tells her to sit down.  He shows her many pictures of him as a young boy and young man, but, he says, in none of these photos is Eleni present.  Therefore, she can't be his sister.  Eleni stays quiet for awhile, but then she slips her family photo into Niko's hands.  There in the photo is a picture of him with Eleni and their parents.   Now Niko realizes that this woman beside him is his sister. 

 

 

The film is a good one.  My wife thought it was too slow and dragged, but I told her that the main character Eleni is just not telling anyone the big secret that she holds.  And sure enough, the terribly sad secret of the Turkish genocide of the Pontic and other Greeks living in Turkey comes out.  Eleni loses her sister and now feels the full guilt of having abandoned her brother after they escaped the Turkish genocide.  Then Eleni is introduced to a Pontic Greek, also a survivor of the Turkish genocide.  He helps Eleni get her life back together. 

Rüçhan Çaliskur (as Ayse / Eleni) was very good. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

Pontus is an historical Greek designation for a region on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, located in the modern-day Turkey's eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey. South of the coast is the Pontic Alps.  The early Greeks colonized the area.  The territory extended from Paphlagonia in the west to the borders of Colchis (modern Georgia) in the east.  From west to east the towns on the coast were or are:  Sinop, Bafra, Samsun, Ordu, Giresun, Gorele, Trabzon and Rize.  South of the coast are, from west to east:  Amasya, Tokat and Gumushane.  Pontus was an important bastion of Byzantine Greek and Greek Orthodox civilization.

17th century   --  under the Ottoman Empire, some of the region's Pontic Greeks became Muslim.  There were also Christian Pontic Greeks. 

1914-1923  --  the Turkish government commits the Greek genocide, part of which is known as the Pontic genocide.  The government ethnically cleansed the Christian Ottoman Greek population from its historic homeland in Anatolia during World War I and its aftermath. It included massacres, forced deportations involving death marches, summary expulsions, arbitrary executions, and the destruction of Christian Orthodox cultural, historical, and religious monuments.  Several hundred thousand Ottoman Greeks died

1919-1922  -- by the end of the Greco-Turkish War, most of the Greeks of Asia Minor had fled or been killed. 

The Ottoman Empire also applied the genocidal policy to the Assyrians and Armenians.

1923 --  a population exchange between Greece and Turkey resulted in a near-complete elimination of the Greek ethnic presence in Turkey and a similar elimination of the Turkish ethnic presence in much of Greece.

1928  --  by this time, 1,104,216 Ottoman Greeks had reached Greece.

 

 

Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)