November 9, 2008
Earlier this week I went to see "Mustafa," Can Dündar's controversial new documentary about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.
I have always considered Dündar a rather bland figure, well-known for his vaguely liberal left-of-center and very uncontroversial views. Dündar is a newspaper columnist who has written a number of books on contemporary affairs, but he'd always struck me as someone who was more interested in asking questions than in staking out an opinion. Fifteen years ago he came out with an earlier documentary of Atatürk which I have never seen, but which was tame enough to have served as standard fare for Turkish elementary school classrooms every since. It was therefore surprising to hear that many people had found his latest endeavor insulting to Atatürk, even in a country where hagiography often passes for history when it comes to Turkey's first president.
I found the first half of 'Mustafa' much less interesting than the second. Indeed, Dündar is mainly concerned with the Turkish War of Independence and subsequent years, so the parts of the film detailing Mustafa Kemal's childhood and early career offer little excitement. Indeed, Dündar seems to be in a bit of a hurry to get on to the War of Independence, skipping over major events like the Unionist takeover in 1908 and Kemal's activities in Libya. There is, in fact, much about Kemal's life during these years that I think audiences would find interesting, but Dündar doesn't stray far from the general outlines of Kemal's life that are already of general knowledge in Turkey. As a result, the film feels like it is simply going through the motions at this stage while Dündar looks ahead to the second half of the film.