A Hard Day in the Empire

A prop assistant desperately tries to make the director happy on a challenging day on the set of an Ottoman soap opera.

Genre: Comedy

Length: 19:50

Free To View

4 out of 5 stars

Producer/s : Beste Yamalıoğlu,

Director/s : Sezen Kayhan, 

Writer/s : Sezen Kayhan, 

Actor/s : Ayris Alptekin, Sezgi Mengi


The Empire strikes

Writer-director Sezen Kayhan has experience working in Turkey’s huge TV soap opera industry, which exports widely across the middle-east. It’s an industry short on time and long on exploitation, with extended shooting days and low pay. It’s also a place of old fashioned sexism, where ubiquitous male directors bully and insult, unredeemed even by creating high quality fare.

The melodrama being produced here is set in the Ottoman Empire. There is a deliberate parallel between the fictional Sultan, who’s about to execute his wife for a crime she didn’t commit, and the film director who’s about to sack the props girl. Ayris Alptekin charms as the poor put-upon Cansu, unable to fulfil his unclear and contradictory demands. The fact that we’re watching a production in process lends us the distance to see its target.

There are nice touches from Kayhans’s insider experience: the assistant director is notable, trying to keep Cansu happy even as he tells her that the pay’s coming late, again. A shame his nice guy façade doesn’t stop him placing his hand on her knee.

The satire is done without heavy-handed dialogue and pointed acting, which only occur in the cheap drama they are making. The cinematography too cleverly distinguishes between naturalistic behind-camera scenes, and the clunky shots of the TV production.

There’s a lot of comic potential here, but Kayhan has chosen not to exploit it to the full. She’s also not taken the chance to have the Sultan, I mean the director, cut down. Restraint is admirable, and there’s no lack of engagement and watchability. But it’s a shame the piece can’t end with an affirming cheer for Cansu. Perhaps the patriarchal grip is still too strong in Turkey, its taste too bitter, for women filmmakers to confidently make empowering gestures.

No screener available