“Ethos” (Netflix)

The title of this compelling Turkish drama says it all: Ethos is the Greek word for character, or more broadly– the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. Turkish playwright and filmmaker Berkun Oya has created a compelling eight episode, deeply humane dramatic series that portrays the wide spectrum of often clashing Turkish ideologies. Educated urban sophisticates are juxtaposed with the less educated religious conservatives, many of whom have been forced to leave their native villages to seek work in Istanbul, living in impoverished semi-rural suburbs. Oya’s superb photography reinforces these socioeconomic contrasts: e.g.the ramshackle housing of the suburbs vs. the sterile, luxury apartments of the rich, the beauty of the countryside vs. the impacted, crowded city; educated psychiatrists vs the hodja (schoolmaster and spiritual leader). The long, slow shots are visual treats–e.g. the green of the psychiatrist’s sweater against the the deep teal wall, the Turkish countryside, a pink stucco wall framing a red door,etc. Occasionally the motivation of the characters is a bit murky, but the acting is so terrific that it is easy to overlook. Given the current political scene in Turkey, it’s surprising that Oya was able to distribute a relatively unbiased film about these disparities. One of the subtleties that might be overlooked by American audiences is Oya’s use of Ferdi Ozbegen, an openly gay arabesque singer, extremely popular in the 70’s. Using actual footage, Oya frames the beginning and end of each episode with clips of Ozbegen in performance. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Oya uses him to embody the many paradoxes and complexities and changing attitudes toward homosexuality. While homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history, official opposition to the LGBT community has grown in recent years. The Istanbul Pride march has been banned for five years in a row. And (this is really bewildering) in July, Netflix canceled If Only, a Turkish series with a gay character. Local Turkish authorities would not license the film unless filmmaker Ece Yörenç removed the gay character from the script. If I were Yörenç I would be infuriated. “Ethos” has a lesbian subplot. But Yörenç is a woman filmmaker and that was probably one too many obstacles.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent review! I had put this aside after watching the first episode and failing to get hooked, but I will now give it another go and look for all the aspects you point out. Thanks! Heath


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