When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.
Sivas is the Turkish submission for the Academy Award race, and is a debut feature film from writer/director Kaan Müjdeci. It takes a naturalistic, externalized look at a coming-of-age cum boy-and-his-dog story.
Aslan (Dogan Izci) becomes attached to, and wants to keep a dogfighting sheepdog Sivas after he’s been left for dead following a fight in Aslan’s hometown.
The best way to contextualize this film for western mores would perhaps be bullfighting stories. Even as a child I was never particularly fond of the sport before the notion of animal rights was even a sensical phrase in my brian. However, I have seen titles about bullfighting and bullfighters, such as The Brave One, and been able to connect through it via the guise of the characters’ individual wants and needs.
The strongest overall sequence in the film is definitely when Aslan and Sivas bond overnight. The dog is severly wounded, handshy, and skittish. Aslan insists on staying with him overnight when his older brother, Şahin (Ozan Çelik), insists that he leave Sivas behind and Aslan refuses.
Through the same guise of character wants/needs the decision Aslan first makes as a dogowner, as he is given sole responsibility for the dog when everyone, his Father (Hazan Yazilitas) included, believes that the dog will serve them no purpose; the provocation of his rival Hasan (Hasan Ozdemir) makes it an obvious choice, and one where it is easy to grin-and-bear it hoping for the desired result.
Dogan Izci is particularly strong as the young lead in one scene when his rage gets the better of him and he makes his biggest, and arguably last, stand in defense of his dog’s rights and insistence on being included in decisions having to do with his well-being and living conditions. The raw emotion tapped by Izci and captured by Müjdeci are breathtaking and are the height of the film unquestionably.
Unfortunately, the concluding third, barring one standard sequence of suspense as their carload of passenger and the dog seek to escape notice of the authorities is a bit nebulous, and left wanting. Aslan’s emotional state at the end is one of steadfast resoluteness in no longer subjecting his dog to the rigors and cruelties he’s already allowed, but any indication of whether or not his request is heeded is left to our imagination. All certainty is expunged for us, all we know for sure is that we watched him grow, and in some respects have seen him come full circle in an unusual way: he reached a new sense of maturity and responsibility when he bonded to and felt protective of Sivas. Yet that was him looking before he leapt, and he had to fight to be able to get back there again.
More so than the usual the dog in question is more a framing mechanism for the tale than the central focal point of the plot. The film may be called Sivas but it’s Aslan’s strength and maturation, and his ability (or inability) to live up to the meaning of his name (“lion”) that is meant to keep us engaged.