Turkey’s Fatih Ozcan on Pride and Masculinity in Sarajevo Competition Film ‘Mavzer’

When a wolf pack attacks the herd of a shepherd living in the mountainous hinterlands of Anatolia, he vows to get a better gun to protect himself, his sheep and his family: a Mauser, the so-called “king of rifles,” and the most powerful gun of its time. He strikes a bargain with a local dealer who agrees to give him a rifle if he can prove his mettle as a hunter. But soon the man is overcome by pride, and as a bitter inheritance dispute with his brother roils the calm of their village, his dangerous obsession with the wolf that attacked his herd threatens to tear his family apart.

“Mavzer” is the feature directorial debut of Turkish filmmaker Fatih Özcan, who also wrote the screenplay. Produced by Teferruat Film, it has its world premiere in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Özcan is a native of the rugged region that serves as the dramatic setting for “Mavzer.” He spoke to Variety from Anatolia about the petty jealousies and disputes that tear families apart, the dangerous instinct that makes men like wolves, and the trauma inflicted when children are disappointed by their fathers and role models.

“Mavzer” is set in the mountainous region of Anatolia where you were born. What inspired you to tell this story?
I was born into a family that migrated to the city from a village. During my childhood I listened to many stories and met many people who were like Veysi and his brother Bekir, the main characters of the movie. I’ve seen many broken families because of [inheritances] and witnessed many brawls caused by paltry disputes in my environment. These were people with primitive wishes. Better shoes. A stronger dog. A garden filled with more fertile trees. A better horse. A better rifle. No one was really interested in settling with what they have. On top of that, they didn’t see themselves equal to others. It was as if they all had a desire for more.

On the other hand, winters were so harsh in our region and we experienced many wolf attacks. As a child I always wondered why wolves wouldn’t kill only what they needed. Why were they attacking to kill the whole herd, instead of killing only to get what they needed? I realized that there are similarities between men and wolves. Man’s most dangerous state of being is the same as the wolf’s. When a wolf attacks a herd, it wants to kill all the animals just because it is capable of doing so. It is the wolf’s instinct. Man’s most dangerous state of being is again his capability. And the story of man becoming a wolf just starts from here. Capability turns men into wolves, but after a while, this power starts to destroy them.

There is an elaborate cat-and-mouse game between Veysi and the wolf that attacked his herd. It’s an obsession that seems to go beyond a simple desire to protect his sheep, and his fixation on the wolf eventually becomes the subject of criticism from his family members. Why is his pursuit of the wolf so important to him?
The competition between Veysi and the wolf actually originates from both being alpha individuals. An alpha wolf leaves marks to define a certain area that belongs to him and protects that area from other wolves. Veysi is also the “alpha wolf” of his family. As an owner, Veysi has to protect his sheep. But the wolf entraps Veysi and attacks the herd. From that moment on, Veysi gets obsessed with the wolf, because the wolf infiltrates his own land. His failure to protect his herd not only reminds him of his other failures in life, but also makes him feel powerless during the wolf’s raid. He becomes an alpha male unable to protect his land. That causes the criticism of the others, who even start to mock Veysi. From then on, it becomes important to kill the wolf to regain his reputation and prove his power to the others around him.

Visually, the film is a study in extremes: the snowy landscapes are almost blindingly white, while the interior scenes are dark and almost claustrophobic. How did you and cinematographer Orçun Özkılınç work together to establish the mood of the film?
While working on the screenplay, I spent a long time on how to set the visual environment. From the start I planned to set a vast, snow-covered landscape for the outside scenes, while the interior scenes would be tight, confined and layered with darkness and shadows. I started a search for the environment which lasted three months. I visited many villages and mountainous regions. I got the chance to observe the village houses, the daily life of the villagers and the light inside the houses. I thought I had time to find the vast and spectacular geography that I wanted.

When I saw the Demirkazık Mountains, I knew that I’d found the exterior landscape for the film. When I returned to Istanbul with hundreds of photos of the region, I didn’t have a cinematographer. When I met with Orçun Özkılınç, I thought he was the one to work as a director of photography. We had many meetings, we worked on the script and examined the photos. I told him what kind of an exterior and interior atmosphere I wanted, and we started working on the visual of the film. A month before the start of the shooting, we traveled to the region and visited all the exterior and interior environments. We took notes and made plans about what kind of light and what kind of camera movements we would use. We produced the photoboard. Orçun Özkılınç made a great contribution to the film. I think we have done a great job together.

Veysi’s uncle offers to give him the Mauser rifle of the film’s title in exchange for a wolf’s pelt. But he offers a warning: “The hunter must hunt the prey with his mind before the rifle.” It’s a lesson that Veysi doesn’t appear to learn in the film, as he struggles to control his own violent passions. Why do you think Veysi attaches so much significance to the rifle? What does it mean to him?
The rifle is the symbol of power for Veysi. He doesn’t think there is a chance that he can be weak. However, the wolf trapped him and attacked the herd and proved that he is smarter than Veysi. By saying, “The hunter must hunt the prey with his mind before the rifle,” his uncle actually warns him that he has to be smarter than his prey. Veysi was trapped by the wolf, the only way he can defeat the wolf is to act smarter. So Veysi hunts a rabbit and chases the wolf till his lair, where he passes the boundaries of violence. Enslaved by his greed to defeat the male wolf, he chooses to kill the whole family. Veysi’s motive to act like this was the Mauser rifle he had, because the Mauser rifle was the most powerful rifle at the time. And Veysi demands the most powerful rifle because he doesn’t want to lose his reputation and power once again.

Veysi has a very tender relationship with his son, Mustafa, who he is trying to raise to be a good man. Throughout the film, we see reminders of the responsibilities a man carries in that society. But he seems to lose sight of what it means to be a father and role model with his stubborn determination to confront his brother, Bekir. Do you think this portrait of masculine stubbornness and pride speaks to a larger issue you see in Turkish society, or in the world at large?
Mustafa is the only son of Veysi. His inheritor. Veysi has grown up taking his father as a role model. Even though he is an alpha male, he still has respect for his father. Thinking that he has to be a father to Mustafa, just like his father was to him, he becomes sensitive. He wants to teach Mustafa how he can cope with the challenges of village life and the rough geography of where they live. In that sense, Veysi is a good father. On the other hand, Mustafa thinks that his father went too far during his struggle with Mustafa’s uncle Bekir. From that moment on, Mustafa thinks his father Veysi is not a role model for him anymore. Because he wasn’t expecting raw violence from his father. As an unsuccessful role model, Veysi feels embarrassed. Veysi, as we see in the film, is a character that can be seen not only in Turkey, but in the whole world as well. When children all around the world experience disappointment with their father, who they see as a role model, they are faced with a great trauma. I think the father and son story in the film makes it more universal.

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