She wears a headscarf, watches trashy television and is smart. What to do?

The camera rests, and rests some more so that you, the viewer, can look, can feel, can hear, can allow the character, the place, the sound, the emotion to speak to you. It is as if the maker of Bir Baskadir suggests that you watch and listen. Really watch and listen. Not just what is before you but also what is within you. The way it is sometimes hard to do in real life because….

because who knows why…..

Meryem

This Turkish mini serial – an original Netflix production (called ‘Ethos’ in English) is widely watched in Turkey, and apparently not well publicised in Europe. Pity, because it is close to all of us, almost anywhere. What spoke to me was how it holds a mirror up to us about judging others on the basis of their appearance, beliefs or lifestyle.

Meryem, the protagonist is a rural migrant to the city of Istanbul. She journeys from the outskirts, where she lives with her brother, depressed and dysfunctional sister-in law and their two children into the heart of the city to clean apartments. There she comes into contact with the lives and values of secular cosmopolitans who don’t wear headscarves or say their prayers. To complicate things, she is in love with one of her city-bred employers, a philanderer. Her psychologist, who she ends up seeing in a hospital because of the fainting spells brought on by her repressed desire for this man, is an American educated non-headscarf donning lady called Peri. She sees what is ailing Meryem, is immediately drawn to her intelligence, her spark and personality, but cannot get over why this amazing woman wears a headscarf…and all the implications that come with wearing one.

Peri and Meryem in the consulting room

While the camera rests calmly on faces, objects, locations, we get to know that Peri allows her true feelings to surface within her, and that these torment her. At least she is in a position to ask herself…why, why do I want intelligent women like Meryem to be ‘secular’ like myself? Why do I want them to show how smart they are by tearing off their headscarves and refusing advice on how to live a good life from the lips of ‘believers’? She wants to be the one to ‘save’Meryem and not leave it to the khodja (the local religious head) who competes for Meryem’s trust.

The khodja and Meryem

Meryem has her prejudices too, which she voices to Peri – who also happens to be just about the only person in the world she can talk to. Meryem judges people like Peri. Through the series, we share the journey these two women make to truly connect to the other, without either of them having to ‘convert’ to the other’s way of life and beliefs.

The journey involves work and pain. Work that each of them has to do for themselves.

Meryem’s brother – abusive and loving

Several other characters’ inner lives in all their complexity are revealed. The lives of secular cosmopolitans, men and women, run parallel not only to ‘believers’, but also to each other, and the same applies to those in the semi-rural neighbourhood of Meryem. Often, lives from both quarters intersect, merge or clash in surprising and refreshing ways. There is time enough to delve into the backgrounds and relationships of these characters to get a grip of what drives them, their fears and challenges, and their emotions. I encountered men who cry and express their fears openly, and women -with and without headscarves – who dare to confront themselves and others, which include those they deeply love, even by sometimes grabbing at another’s throat. Some overcome and thrive. Others are stuck and cannot break free.

While the camera rested, I got to meet these characters up close – in their pain, in their joys or confusions, in the violence of their feelings, in their struggles not to break down or to break away completely.

But to come back to the one who wears a headscarf, watches trashy television and is smart. What to do?

I’d say – invite her home. Pour a glass of wine for yourself if you like. Spend the evening with her in your living room.

For a review of Bir Baskadir (Ethos) in Dutch, click here

For a review of Bir Baskadir (Ethos) in English, click here

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