Director Cihan Taşkın’s eagerly anticipated debut feature “Kelebek” (Butterfly), which hit theaters on Friday, clearly rejects the association of Muslims with terrorism that became so widespread after the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide attacks carried out against the US by al-Qaeda.
The movie, written by Mahmut Bengi, tells the story of Yusuf and his friends, who go to Afghanistan during the 1996 civil war with the encouragement of their Mevlevi sheikh in order to be useful in a situation where thousands have been killed or left homeless. The film’s cast features world-renowned Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud, along with Turkish actors Caner Cindoruk, Münir Can Cindoruk, Şahin Çelik, Deniz Bolışık, Sümer Tılmaç, Tuncay Beyazıt, Kadir Kırıcı and Serhat Yiğit.
In an interview with Today’s Zaman, director Taşkın — who has been in the film industry for the last 15 years — explained that with “Kelebek” he wanted to show that a Muslim cannot be a terrorist and a terrorist cannot be a Muslim. “After Sept. 11, the people of the Middle East rejected the role that was imposed on them by the US. The US told them they were terrorists, and they said they were not. And I chose to show the difference between Muslims and terrorism through Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi,” he said.“On the one hand there is a religion that says ‘Killing a person is like destroying all of humanity.’ On the other hand, there is a regime led by George W. Bush, saying ‘You are either one of us or a terrorist’,” Taşkın elaborates. “I tried to approach the problem as neutral as possible [but] by drawing a definite line between Islam and terrorism,” he said, adding that he would have made the movie in the same way even if he was not a Muslim, but a Christian or a Jew. “Of course, we see Islam in the movie, since we are talking about Rumi, but the more important part of it is that it is talking about the human being. I tried to depict how just one person can change the destiny of the whole world. Whether that one person is an American or an Afghan, we should stand right next to them if they are the victims of terrorism.”
“Kelebek” is made up of four parts, taking its main character from the very beginning to the point of becoming a “perfect human being” and courageously shows religious figures and conversations in and out of common places where daily life runs — unlike many other movies in Turkish cinema. “We always have this fixed opinion that if somebody is going to utter a religious sentence in a movie, it has to be said near a lake or a desert. I wanted to challenge this by shooting a scene with Yusuf and his sheikh during a football game, for instance,” Taşkın explained.
The main theme of the movie is “It’s never too late,” Taşkın said. “I tried to emphasize [this theme] throughout the film. There is always something that can be done even if one thinks it is too late.”
The movie’s title refers to the butterfly effect, which is tied to the theme of the movie. “If a butterfly can start a hurricane in some other part of the world, just one person can contribute to many changes with simple actions,” Taşkın added.
In order to be fully independent, the director decided not to fund his film with any sponsorship. “The film did not receive any institutional support financially. I wanted to tell the world something, and this was only possible without any interference from any kind of institution,” he explained.
Concerning the actors in the movie, Serhat Yiğit, who was responsible for casting and also plays a terrorist in the film, noted that while telling the story of an event that affected everybody in the world and trying to reflect Rumi’s philosophy in film, the best thing to do was to work with Massoud, who has acted in such films as “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” “When [British director] Ridley Scott offered him a role in his last movie, ‘Body of Lies,’ Massoud refused, saying it would be a betrayal of his religion. But he gladly accepted our offer and told us that ‘Kelebek’ was trying to say something beautiful in a very different way,” Yiğit explained.
All of the other members of the cast were picked very carefully and worked very hard for their roles. The film’s soundtrack is a joint effort by world-famous Turkish musician Ömer Faruk Tekbilek and Grammy and Emmy-winning musician Brian Keane.
But despite all the good intentions behind the movie, “Kelebek” risks creating an arrogant image of Turks as an alternative to Middle Eastern people, since it depicts Turks in a struggle to stop people who seem to have an inclination to join terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. Both Taşkın and Yiğit explain that this could have been said even if they were of another nationality. “This is a movie directed by a Turkish director with Turkish characters in it. If it was a French production with French people, then one would see not a Turkish but a French image like that. So such an image cannot be derived from this movie.