Winner of the Palme D'Or in 1982, it's frankly a miracle that 'Yol' was made at all. Co-director Yilmaz Guney was formerly one of Turkey's most prominent and popular actors. Imprisoned in 1961 for publishing a Communist novel, his relationship with the state continued to deteriorate and he was imprisoned on a murder charge in 1974. During this period of imprisonment, he remained creative, writing screenplays which were directed by colleagues upon his advice. Though the film was directed by Goren, Guney later escaped from prison and fled to Switzerland where the film was edited. The film was banned in Turkey until recent years. One shouldn't think though that the film was rewarded with several prizes at Cannes because of its remarkable history. It's truly an exceptional film on its own merit.
Made in the immediate aftermath of the 1980 coup by the army, which led to a state of emergency and the suspension of human rights, Guney's film is a realistic portait of Turkey at the time. The army remains active in all elements of public life. Curfews exist, roadblocks are everywhere and fear reigns given the arbitrary behaviour of the army. In this context, five prisoners from an open prison on the island of Imrali are given a week's leave. These are men from every corner of Turkey, all of whom seem to have unfinished business at home. One is Mehmet (Halil Ergun), who abandoned his brother in law during a botched robbery. His wife's family have now disowned him, and his wife is torn between her family and her husband. If she joins her husband, she will be cursed and no longer part of her family. Seyit (Tarik Akan) discovers that his wife prostituted herself in his absence. He is charged with deciding whether to commit the honour killing her family believes she deserves or whether to leave it to her. Seyit is torn between pity and hatred and must wrestle with his conscience on this matter. Another prisoner returns to his village in Kurdistan which is regularly attacked by the army, whilst another loses his papers and spends his entire leave in army custody, unable to see his family. Cutting between each prisoner's story, Guney weaves a tale of men who must deal with events that lead to their imprisonment and events that have taken place in their absence, with every possible emotion felt along the way.
Guney's indictment of contemporary Turkish society is powerful. This is a country that is politically volatile, taking an uneasy route towards democracy, where the power of the army during this period extends of every aspect of daily life. This is a country which is trying to modernise in many ways, but still a hostage to traditions, and each prisoner must deal with this natural conflict. Though Seyit is not as vengeful as his wife's family, he agrees to commit the honour kill because it is he who has been dishonoured above all. Mehmet is torn by the guilt of the death of his brother in law, which he admits to his wife, who still loves him and is willing to risk losing her family to be with him. Guney's portrait of his country is not a sympathetic one, and as he makes clear over the final credits, it was a film made under the hardest possible conditions. Whilst Turkey has now firmly been established on the cinema map thanks to the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Fatih Akin, 'Yol' is arguably the strongest and most powerful film to come from this country, at least in regards to what has been seen in the West. 4.5/5