The Bogeyman

The Bogeyman


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"He's not real. Dad made him up to scare us," Ahmet explains to Ayse about the bogeyman she believes lives in the shed, the monster who makes her afraid to go to sleep. But childhood, however idyllic it might look on the surface, is often haunted by fears, and Ahmet has plenty of his own.

Since the death of their mother and their father's remarriage, Ahmet and Ayse have been cast out of the family home in Anatolia. They live now with their aged grandfather, a man whose poor health makes it difficult for him to look after them yet who is determined to save them from being sent to a children's home, where they would probably be separated. The villagers are sympathetic and try to help, though their children bully and jeer. An aunt wants to take Ahmet and Ayse to Germany, but everything is complicated by rules which seem to take no account of their desperate situation. In the meantime, Ahmet has become a sort of surrogate parent to his little sister, trying to create a safe space in which she can still experience childhood - even if it's at the expense of his own.

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All of this may seem calculated to tug at the heartstrings, but it's very effectively told, without excess sentimentality. As Ayse, Elif Bülbül is one of the cutest children to grace the screen for years, whilst Mehmet Bülbül delivers a subtle, multi-layered performance as her brother. Providing subtext to the story is an exploration of changing masculine values in this rapidly modernising country. Ahmet finds it hard to understand his grandfather's deep shame at being reduced to doing women's work in looking after the household. His father is self-centered and focused on his rights as a man without any apparent sense of related responsibility, whilst Ahmet himself has slipped easily into the traditionally feminine role of primary caregiver, ignoring the boys who torment him for playing with his sister. His determination to be strong and keep the monsters at bay seems to represent a new emerging masculinity, not so dissimilar to the traditional role but a lot less self-conscious. It suggests that the pace of social change make flexibility and stoicism into vital qualities, ultimately more useful than the aggressive demands which gradually isolate his father.

Female roles in the story are not so well developed. Ayse is too young to convey very much in that regard, though a sequence in which she is dressed up and prettified like a small adult becomes quite disturbing. Most of the women we meet are village gossips who provide convenient exposition. It's an unfortunate flaw in otherwise well-developed storytelling skills. The film is at its strongest when it is purely observational, leaving us to pick up only the disjointed scraps of information that the children are privy to.

With sumptuous visuals and a knack for observing the oddities of life, this is a film which both charms and amuses despite its grim central narrative. Its strong sense of character overcomes any impatience viewers might have with its familiar nature, and despite its essential sadness, it's a story full of hope.

Reviewed on: 08 Dec 2009
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The Bogeyman packshot
Rejected by their stepmother and cast out of their father's home, two children face an uncertain future.
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Director: Atalay Tasdiken

Writer: Atalay Tasdiken

Starring: Elif Bülbül, Mehmet Bülbül, Mete Dönmezer, Mustafa Uzunyilmaz, Mehmet Usta

Year: 2009

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Turkey


BIFF 2009
Glasgow 2010

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